Monday, February 25, 2013

Coconut Oils - Is It all Good for You?

As I head into a better health and food-style, there is always the battle about how to eat on a limited budget, transitioning over to better food choices. It is great to want that exotic vegetable or the limited edition artisan oil, but what is in the kitchen on a regular basis really decides whether or not you  stick to those 2013 resolutions about food and lifestyle changes.

One of the areas I reassessed recently was my cooking oils. I'd given up Crisco long ago. I hadn't seen lard in a long time, although there are those out there who think lard has gotten a bad rap. My repertoire consisted mainly of canola and olive oil, and I was definitely looking to expand that. In my travels and research, another long maligned oil emerged, touting health and cooking benefits. It was coconut oil.

Some friends had already transitioned over and used it in cooking, since it has a low smoke point, and in it's unrefined state, adds a wonderful yet delicate coconut flavor and scent. They were talking about using less salt or less oil, while imparting a richness and depth not found in canola oil or even olive.

What I found out there was definitely a food public relations makeover!

Coconut Oil is  extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts harvested from the coconut palm (Cocus nucifera). It is usually harvested from tropical areas, and here in the US, you can find it at most grocery and health stores. Like I said before, it's low smoke point makes it perfect for cooking and due to its high saturated fats, it resists going rancid and can last (properly stored) for up to 12 months.

Now, that is where the PR has definitely changed. Weren't we all told to avoid saturated fats? But what has emerged is most of the studies leading us away from coconut oil were dealing with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which we definitely know is not good. So, is it the saturated fats or the partially hydrogenated oil process?

Basically, it seems the hydrogenated oil process has to go. The saturated fat in coconut oil is mostly lauric acid (getting a little techie here for a sec). Lauric acid increases the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help improve cholesterol ratio levels. So coconut oil may actually be healthy for you. Studies have shown that coconut oil can be beneficial in a diet that is geared toward weight loss and boosting the immune system.

Well, if that is what is going on, I am onboard!

Unrefined coconut oil
Coconut oil is usually sold in its unrefined, flavorful state, which is solid at room temperature. But, there is also a type of coconut oil available called Fractionated Coconut Oil that is liquid and stays that way at room temperature. It loses the extra coconut aroma, but is perfect when you don't want to add any additional flavors/scents to your foods, and its shelf life extends out to 2 years. The process is NOT anything like hydrogenation. It is also extensively used in aromatherapy, massage therapy and other medicinal arenas due to low-staining ability, ease to mix with other carrier and essential oils, and the swiftness in which the skin absorbs it.

I use coconut oil often (both the solid and liquid) to moisturize my cuticles during the winter. And, if I don't have shea butter, I use it as a base on my lips before any lipstick or gloss, so that my lips are soft and protected from the cold winter elements. Especially if you are not using an organic or natural, plant-based beauty product, always protect your face and lips with a gentle, protecting oil like coconut.

BTW, the organic, unrefined coconut oil works wonderfully mixed together with palm kernel oil and fragrant, essential oils, like lemon and jasmine. These are called "butters," and are also great for aromatherapy, soap-making and general body moisturizers. I routinely use Vanilla Coconut "butter" as a morning lotion after the shower. This has been a godsend during the colder months! (In a future post, we will talk about Whipped Body Butters that combine shea butter, coconut oil and fragrance for a DIY body care product!)

The other type of coconut oil is RBD (refined, bleached and deodorized). It can be used for cooking and is used extensively in commercial food preparation. It has no flavor or aroma, either, and I would suggest to use organic, if you go that route, although it is not as easy to find as the unrefined.

Back in the kitchen, coconut oil is perfect for sauteing, frying and works equally well with meats and vegetables. In baking, it is known to create a flaky, delicate crust in pies and a tight density that is perfect for pound cakes and other confections. It is even good enough for the pooch!

Homemade doggie treats using coconut oil. See 2nd recipe link for this!
Coconut oil is available in stores, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, online outlets like and many other small purveyors. I don't offer it yet in my online store, but locally, here in Charlotte, North Carolina, I will have both organic, unrefined oil and fractionated coconut oil available in 1lb (16 oz) containers for sale, starting March 15th. And, if anyone wants to try them, I will also have various coconut butters to sample.

So, new PR, and more studies seem to have done the trick. Coconut oil is now considered safe for moderate consumption in a healthy foodstyle, even if you are looking to lose weight and reduce cholesterol. It is also perfect for body, massage and moisturizing products. Who can beat an oil that works in the kitchen, bedroom and bath?

Readers, it's your turn! How are you using this versatile oil?

Links to more information on coconut oil:
The Surprising Health Benefits of Coconut Oil - Dr. Oz Show
Coconut Oil - MSN Healthy Living
Coconut Oil - Wikipedia ( I don't love Wiki, but love to mine their references!
Coconut Oil - Peer Reviewed Research -

NYTimes article - Links for recipes are on the left side of the article.
Top 5 Recipes for Coconut Oil - Coconut Oil

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