Coconut oil wasn’t really on my radar at all until about a year ago, when I started seeing it on various blogs. More recently, I’ve been suggesting it to patients at the clinic where I volunteer, per the recommendation of my supervisor, who praises its antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral properties, which are especially relevant to HIV patients (I try not to talk too much about my volunteer work on this blog, but most of my experience has been with low-income HIV populations).
For a really long time, coconut oil had a bad reputation, due to its high saturated fat content. In 1994, Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest wrote, “Theater popcorn ought to be the Snow White of snack foods, but it’s been turned into Godzilla by being popped in highly saturated coconut oil,” in an piece based on a study that claimed a large movie-theater popcorn (sans butter) delivered as much saturated fat as six Big Macs.
What was later brought to light was the fact that this and other studies on coconut oil were conducted using partially hydrogenated coconut oil—any partially hydrogenated oil, creates trans fats, which have been shown to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. What’s more, partial hydrogenation destroys many of the good essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and other health-promoting substances found in extra virgin coconut oil.
While coconut oil is still high in saturated fat, research has shown that not all saturated fats behave the same way in the body. Coconut oil, specifically, can raise HDL levels, and while it may raise LDL levels as well, it does not appear to negatively impact the ratio between the two. That may not sound like much, but many doctors and health care providers will tell you that the ratio is really what matters most.
Though more research needs to be done, the aura of fear around coconut oil is starting to dissolve. While it’s still important to keep saturated fat intake to around 10% of your daily calorie intake (around 20 grams for someone who needs 2,000 calories per day), using coconut oil in place of other oils and fats (canola oil, butter…) may be beneficial—not to mention delicious.
My favorite ways to enjoy it are in stir-fry and in baked goods. A little goes a long way. Chris even uses it to make his granola! Drizzling a little on top of smoothies is also fun, since it hardens into a sort of natural magic shell. You may also want to try it for roasting vegetables—this New York Times article suggests sweet potatoes (can’t wait to try this), but kabocha or butternut squash might be great too.
You can read more here.