Lately it seems I can’t pick up a health magazine without reading about the benefits of coconut. Coconut oil is everywhere. And it’s about time. I gave coconut and coconut oil a “star” in the new book, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth,” meaning even among that stellar group of foods it’s a standout.
How did this formally forbidden food (it contains a fair amount of saturated fat) redeem its reputation and become the latest darling of the superfood set?
Coconut actually contains a very healthy form of fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Although MCTs are indeed a form of saturated fat, they have some very unique properties. For example, MCTs are very digestible, which makes them ideal for people with digestive problems such as ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.
MCTs also have antiviral and antimicrobal properties. Specifically, coconut and coconut oil contain a fatty acid called lauric acid, which has been found to be quite effective in fighting a number of bacteria. This makes coconut and coconut oil very effective for supporting the immune system.
Coconut has a reputation for fat burning, which, truth be told, is probably a bit exaggerated. There have been research studies showing that people who regularly incorporate coconut oil in their diets lose weight, but some of the studies suggest you have to eat practically 40 percent of your calories from MCTs to get the effect. But many people find that smaller amounts of MCTs, from coconut or from supplements, are very effective, if for no other reason than they help keep you full and thus less likely to overeat.
The other thing about coconut is that it’s incredibly stable. You can heat it to high temperatures and it doesn’t break down its chemical composition and create trans fats or other undesirable compounds.
As far as the supposed “dangers” of coconut fat, it’s worth pointing out that research has shown that populations such as the Polynesian Puka Puka and Tokelau islanders, who consume a very large percentage of their calories from coconut and coconut oil, have vanishingly low levels of heart disease.
And better still, not only is coconut amazingly healthy, but it is beyond delicious.
Coconut oil is now available in health food stores everywhere, but make sure to get a 100% cold-pressed organic brand. My favorite: Barlean’s.