What’s All the Fuss About Coconut Oil?

Move over olive oil… it’s coconut’s time to shine.

It seems everyone is talking about coconut oil these days, so I thought I’d take a stab at explaining what all the fuss is about. Coconut oil is a saturated fat (gasp!)…. Hold it right there…I know, after all these years of putting saturated fat on the same level as the devil himself, we’re hearing a different story. It turns out not all saturated fats are created equal and we’ve learned the body actually needs saturated fat for really important things like brain cells and hormones. The real demons are now the ones treated artificially — liquid fats that are manipulated to make them solid at room temperature by adding hydrogen (aka “hydrogenated”) to create “trans fats.” Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature all on its own making it naturally more stable and capable of handling higher temperatures without burning and creating free radicals — those things that cause major cellular damage (ie. signs of aging, inflammation, cancer, etc.).

Aside from being able to handle the heat, coconut oil is oozing with health benefits. It’s linked with boosting metabolism, improving heart health, supporting the immune system and maintaining a lean body. Our bodies actually burn coconut oil differently than they do other fats. The fatty acids in coconut oil are much smaller so they’re easier for the body to use. That means we’re able to burn the fat quickly and use it up as energy, instead of storing it (Now, that’s my kind of non-fat!). As if that weren’t enough, this little miracle worker does wonders for the skin too. Use it as a substitute for butter in baking, to saute vegetables, as a moisturizer, eye-makeup remover… you can even take it daily as a supplement. Have you seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? If so, this is my Windex!

To truly reap the benefits, look for these buzz words on the label: virgin, organic, unrefined, and cold pressed or expeller pressed. There are coconut oils out there that are refined or processed to neutralize the flavor and extend the product’s shelf life. You don’t want that. When buying coconut oil, go for the pure stuff. Also, you might see some that are labeled “extra-virgin,” which is not really a thing as it is with olive oils. For coconut oil, virgin is as good as it gets. Just so you know…

Fun fact: Coconut oil was actually what movie theaters originally used to pop popcorn until saturated fat became a no-no. But the stuff they were using was far from the pure coconut oil we’re talking about here. I’d imagine it did give those kernels that perfect combo of sweet and salty though.

Want to give it a try? Use coconut oil as you would olive oil to saute vegetables. Itching to bake? Here are a few recipes that use coconut oil:

Banana Nut Muffins
Peanut Butter Rice Crispy Treats
Pumpkin Pie Bars
Raw Cheesecake

nutrition information

Lessons From a Caveman: The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Cavemen had it easy. They didn’t have the temptation of sweet potato fries, or Dairy Queen Blizzards, or margaritas. All they had to eat were nuts, berries and seeds; lean meat; fish and plant foods. Their primitive diet struck the perfect balance of anti-inflammatory Omega-3s and pro-inflammatory Omega-6s. What does today’s “caveman” diet look like? Steak. Potato. Bread. The scales are tipped in one clear direction. In a span of a few hundred-thousand years, from hunting and gathering to the fast food industry, our pro to anti-inflammation ratio has gone from 1:1 to a bloated 30:1. Say, “Do I look swollen?”

It might be another story if McDonald’s got its start selling salmon and spinach Happy Meals. But the reality is most of the foods and fast food we eat are processed and fatty. And the more we eat, the more inflammation builds up in the body. It’s what causes aches and pains and leads to allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Of course inflammation speeds up the aging process in general too. Hello, wrinkles. So when you hear of the powerful antioxidents in blueberries, or the wonders of green tea, or the new superfood – acai, or whatever is touted as the next season’s fountain of youth …  it all comes down to the food’s ability to fight inflammation.

The trick is to eat less of the really pro-inflammatory stuff (processed foods, sugar, red meat…) and more of the anti-inflammatory stuff (veggies, nuts, fish, whole grains…). Go primitive. In your diet that is. No loin clothes.
I like to think that if I can strike a balance, I’m in good shape. The good cancels out the bad, right? Do the math: 1 Butterfinger Blizzard + 6 oz. salmon + 1 Spinach salad + 1/4 cup blueberries = 0. That’s a wash. 

Here’s a quick list of some inflammation fighters:
nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews)
fish (wild-caught salmon)
olive oil
dark leafy greens (spinach, mixed greens)
whole grains (brown rice)
berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
tea (green)

And some inflammation instigators:
full-fat dairy
red meat
high-fructose corn syrup
vegetable oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower and sunflower oils)
wheat flour (white bread)
packaged snack foods

For a visual, check out Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid.

Want more? Read: Jack Challem’s “The Inflammation Syndrome”