IS COCONUT OIL THE NEW AND IMPROVED OLIVE OIL
Written by guest author Nynke Burggraaff
For years and years, the media and health gurus have educated us about the countless benefits of olive oil. Olive oil has become a staple in many households and for good reason; it is both healthy and tasty. However, recently there has been a buzz among health gurus about another type of healthy oil: coconut oil. Could there be a new sheriff in town? Let's find out!
Coconut oil is not as bad as we think
People are more or less afraid to use coconut oil simply because coconut oil contains saturated fats. We have been falsely informed that these saturated fats are very bad for us. Another reason why coconut oil may not have won any popularity contests is because of its typical exotic flavor. In this article, I will provide you with helpful information about this versatile and exotic oil.
Coconut oil and how it is derived
Now what is coconut oil exactly and from what parts of the coconut is it made? Well, coconut oil is derived from the white flesh of the coconut, not to be confused with the palm. The dried white flesh is pressed so that the oil can then be extracted. After this, the crude oil is filtered and then it becomes virgin coconut oil. It may be further refined by deodorizing the coconut oil or 'bleaching'the coconut oil till it has the white color. Fun fact, the extracted oil solidifies at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and therefore in cooler climates like northern Europe coconut oil is actually more a fat than a liquid oil!
Are saturated fats bad by default?
Let's get back to the question of why coconut oil held such a bad reputation for many years. As I mentioned before, coconut oil contains a great sum of saturated fats, more or less 86%.
We have been made to believe that all saturated fats are unhealthy. This is easily believed as a lot of unhealthy products that we know of, such as fried foods and pastries contain saturated fats. Despite the fact that 86% of the fats in coconut oil are saturated, they have special properties. The majority of coconut oil's fatty acids are made up of medium chain fatty acids, also known as Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). These MCTs are slightly different when processed by the body if you compare them with 'normal' fats.
Below I will summarize the most important characteristics of coconut oil.
Research has determined that coconut oil actually has a positive influence on cholesterol in that it decreases bad cholesterol and increases the good cholesterol.
MCT's have the characteristic that they are rapidly burned by the body. This quick burning process means less fat will be stored in the body. Much like carbohydrates (our body's source of energy), it gives a more direct energy supply than stored fats will.
Research has shown that coconut oil ensures that vitamins and minerals are better absorbed from food through your body.
The coconut oil goes directly to the liver (bypassing the need for action of bile salts and pancreatic lipase for absorption). What does this mean? Coconut oil does not need to be processed by the body, thus saving us more energy.
Coconut oil contributes to a more stable blood sugar level which is very important for diabetics and the prevention of diabetes. Stable blood sugar levels also decrease the chances of fat storage.
Coconut oil is said to have a beneficial effect on our blood pressure by stimulating the health of the cell membrane, so this creates an improvement in our blood circulation.
Certain fatty acids in coconut oil protect the body against pathogens such as parasites, food poisoning, bacteria, viruses, fungi etc.
Lastly (as is the case with olive oil), coconut oil is a very stable oil. This means that it can be heated to a high degree without losing its nutritional value or becoming toxic. Heating coconut oil to a high degree makes it great for stir frying or baking.
Should we disregard all other fats and stick to coconut oil?
The health benefits sound pretty good, right? So can we now eliminate olive oil and other healthy fats from our diet? No, definitely not! For example, healthy fats from fish like salmon cannot be replaced by coconut oil. While coconut oil is great for frying and baking, olive oil provides great health benefits and flavor in cold dishes.
Another important issue is that coconut oil, as with most foods, is healthier un-refined. Unrefined coconut oil means that it contains its natural exotic aroma. Although some dishes taste better with this exotic flavor, there are also many that are best served without it.
Critics of coconut oil will stress that since it goes directly to the liver, it could place stress on the organ.
It is essential to educate yourself about the pros and cons of most food hypes. While coconut oil definitely has great aspects to it, I believe it cannot replace other fats like olive oil and fatty fish. It is best to balance these fats in your diet. As I do, I stir fry in coconut oil, eat my salads dressed with olive oil and aside from that, I enjoy fatty fish in my diet.
Click here to learn more about healthy fats.