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Taste of the tropics: Coconut oil

Posted Mar 16 2010 12:00am
If you’ve been wondering if coconut oil is good for you or not, you’re not alone.

Some health experts praise coconut oil for its immune-boosting abilities, its antibacterial and antiviral properties, and its resistance to oxidation (it doesn’t go rancid at room temperature like other oils).

On the other hand, coconut oil is a saturated fat , and we all know that saturated fat contributes to cardiovascular disease . Right?

This is one of those gray areas of nutrition where the information you get depends upon whom you ask.

If you talk to your doctor, whose expertise in the field of nutrition might come from a single college course taken 20 years ago, he will likely instruct you to cut down on saturated fats. If you read current books and articles about paleo-inspired and hunter-gatherer-type diets, they will assert that saturated fats are what we humans were meant to consume.

Recent studies suggest that saturated fat may not, in fact, be as unhealthy as nutritionists have been preaching all these years. The real culprit, it turns out, is partially hydrogenated fat: liquid vegetable oil that has been chemically processed so it becomes a solid. Hydrogenated fats are typically used in processed foods, and they have a far worse effect on your cholesterol level than do the natural saturated fats found in butter, meat, and cheese.

This is a switch from the conventional wisdom of 10 or 15 years ago, when nutritionists believed that all fat in the diet should be reduced. Many forward-thinking health experts now say the type of fat you eat is more important than how much of it you consume.

The merits and/or dangers of saturated fat are still hotly debated, however. And keep in mind that overdoing it on any kind of fat, even an unimpeachable variety like olive oil, isn’t healthy either.

Which brings us back to coconut oil. Always or never? My position: Sometimes.

The two fats I rely on most often in my kitchen are butter and olive oil. But I use coconut oil for frying, because its resistance to oxidation makes it perform well at high heat without breaking down. Coconut oil is also versatile for baking: it can take the form of either a solid or a liquid, depending on its temperature. Its flavor is distinct, but not overpowering. How much you like it depends on the recipe and how you feel about coconut.

I also put coconut oil on my skin in the wintertime. Yes, the exact same stuff I cook with! As with any oil, make sure you buy an organic, cold-pressed brand (I like Barleans ).

Aside from using it as a moisturizer, I probably reach for the jar of coconut oil once or twice a week. At that rate, I figure, it might help and probably won’t hurt.

Below is a tropical twist on oatmeal cookies, inspired by a recipe from the now-defunct Gourmet magazine (may it rest in peace). These cookies are also vegan, for those interested.

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

1 very ripe banana
1/2 cup coconut oil, soft but not liquid
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Mash the banana with coconut oil until well blended. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and mix. Fold in oatmeal, walnuts, and chocolate chips.

Drop batter with a spoon onto a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from the pan.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Note: Refrigerate the batter for a few minutes if it becomes too soft.

Copyright © 2010 Eleanor Kohlsaat LLC
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