Some years ago, when our friend Maaret presented me with a jar containing a white lump of something and proudly proclaimed that it was "coconut oil", I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
After all, my area of expertise was elsewhere, not dealing with … whatever that jar might contain that Maaret felt was of such obvious superlative value. Still, I thanked her for her gift, not knowing whether I was supposed rub it on my face, or what.
Unsurprisingly, coconut oil is oil from coconuts, and you can cook with it, among other things. While that may sound odd if you’ve not tried it, it turns out that coconut oil not only smells beautiful (unlike most cooking oils) but also tastes rather fabulous. For baking, it adds a light, fragrant scent to the mix and is quite delicious — and I’m not much of a coconut person.
Like butter, coconut oil is solid at room temperature that can be left unrefrigerated for ages without (unlike most oils) becoming rancid and therefore unhealthy for consumption.
Note that coconut oil is a saturated fat — however, although we’ve been told for decades that saturated fats are not healthy for us, according to Lita Lee, Ph.D. at coconutoil.com (Coconut Oil: Why it is Good For You), saturated fat is "one that has a small degree of unsaturation or double bonds and tends to be more solid at room temperatures lower than 76 degrees F." Further, she says:
Coconut oil has been used as cooking oil for thousands of years. Popular cookbooks advertised it at the end of the 19th century. Then came the anti-saturated fat campaign and the promotion of polyunsaturated fats, such as flaxseed, canola, soybean, safflower, corn, and other seed and nut oils plus their partially hydrogenated counterparts (margarine, "I can’t believe it’s not butter", etc.) as the way to go. Indeed, saturated fats have been supposedly causally linked to high cholesterol and heart disease, multiple sclerosis and other bad health conditions. I don’t know how anyone came to this conclusion, since it would be hard to find a person in America who has a high saturated fat diet. …
Over the past 40 years, Americans have increased their consumption of unsaturated fats and partially hydrogenated fats and have decreased their consumption of saturated fatty acids and butter. Lauric acid, the major fatty acid in coconut oil and breast milk, is rarely present in the American diet. Yet saturated fats are still being called the health culprits while grocery stores abound with many kinds of seed and nut oils. Many have been told that if the unsaturated oil is unprocessed, it is safe. This is untrue. The harmful effects of unsaturated oil lie in their unsaturation … which are … easily peroxidized (become rancid inside the body).
So that’s it — you could faithfully eat unsaturated fats as we’ve been told to do, only to have them become rancid in your system. Dr. Lee’s article goes on to cite coconut oil’s thyroid-stimulating, anti-aging, anti-cancer and antimicrobial effects — it’s a good read.
As a side note, I’m not entirely thrilled at the amount of misinformation we’ve been fed over the years regarding nutrition, purposefully or not — but I figure that it’s our job (that’s all of us) to ensure we know enough to choose wisely. Let the buyer beware, and all that.
And I know that we can safely go on using delicious organic coconut oil in our diet to get it’s benefits along with its great taste.
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