Oils, and fats in general, often get a bad rap. It’s no wonder, either. Take trans fats, for instance. Trans fatty acids are created when an oil, such as corn oil, is hydrogenated so it becomes a solid fat. These hydrogenated fats don’t spoil quickly, so they’re widely used in cookies, crackers, chips and other commercial baked goods. They’re also found in margarine, shortening and in most fried and fast food. Trans fat increases levels of “bad” cholesterol in the bloodstream and decreases levels of “good” cholesterol. In fact, these kinds of fats are the ones that can form that dreaded arterial plaque and have other unhealthy effects. They should be avoided.
On the other hand, there are also healthy fats, including omega-3s that we hear so much about these days. Most of us know that omega-3s, especially EPA and DHA, are important for health, including a healthy cardiovascular system, healthy brain, joints, eyes, bones and skin. Omega-3s’ health benefits are indisputable, and we should make sure we get enough of them.
It’s pretty clear-cut when we talk about trans fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, but there are some fats and oils that still are in question for their health benefits. Coconut oil is one of them, but it’s time to set the record straight.
Coconut oil is a 92 percent saturated with over two-thirds of the saturated fat in the form of medium-chain fatty acids, often called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTS. MCTs are quickly metabolized by the body and used as energy rather than being stored as fat, and that helps to support thyroid function and more.
Now, if the realization that coconut is a saturated fat freaks you out a bit, know this: healthy saturated fats like coconut oil:
• make up at least 50 percent of all cell membranes
• play a vital role in bone health, since without them, calcium can’t be effectively incorporated into the skeletal system
• protect the liver from toxins and support a healthy immune system
• help to properly utilize essential fatty acids like omega-3s and to absorb nutrients
• are perfect food for the heart, since the fat around the heart is highly saturated
Additionally, the medium-chain saturated fatty acids, like lauric acid, in coconut oil help support a balanced microbial and fungal environment. Coconut oil is also believed to support hormonal balance, healthy blood sugar levels, healthy metabolism and cellular health. Coconut oil can also withstand high temperatures, so cooking or baking doesn’t denature the beneficial properties of the oil, and it has very low rancidity due to its chemical structure. In contrast, polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as soybean oil, canola oil and safflower oil (fats found frequently in our modern diet), are prone to rancidity and are toxic in large amounts.
In my estimation, unprocessed coconut oil is one of the healthiest, most versatile dietary oils in the world. If you’ve not tried it, then it may be time to discover this tropical treasure.