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Coconut Oil Craze

Friday, April 01, 2011

Like fashion trends, food trends are cyclical, and coconut oil is back these days like a pair of neon leg warmers. It was reviled in the mid-'90s as the artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising secret behind delicious movie theater popcorn. Now coconut oil has made a stealthy comeback—and this time around, it’s being considered by many as a health food.

According to Dr. Tom Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, that’s because the coconut oil found at health food stores today is not the same as what was some 20 years ago.

“One is highly processed and the other one is much less processed,” he says. “And the less processed one, which we call virgin coconut oil, seems to be a much more healthful product.”

Melissa Clark, who covered the topic in her "Good Appetite" column for The New York Times, explained that “non-hydrogenated, virgin coconut oil—the pure stuff actually squeezed from coconuts—is not as bad for you as we were led to believe.”

While deep-fried candy bars are still probably not a good idea, there is a growing distinction between “good” and “bad” fats. Virgin, unprocessed coconut oil happens to fall in the former category. She explains that many of the previous reports condemning saturated fats have been peer reviewed and found lacking in some instances. “The fact is that there are also different kinds of saturated fats, and we’ve been lumping it together in this big evil cloud of saturated fat,” says Clark. “Now we’re hearing: ‘Oh, well, maybe you can eat a little bit of it, as long as you don’t overdo it.’”

Clark notes that coconut oil is a medium-chain saturated fat that contains lauric acid, which she says has not been shown to be related to heart disease. In fact, lauric acid is naturally present in breast milk. It’s easily digested, protects babies’ gastro-intestinal tracts, and can be used to help patients who have had gastro-intestinal surgery. Lauric acid has also been shown to boost immune systems. However, as with all recently hot food trends, there’s a limit to what lauric acid can do.

“Of course, you go on the Internet and type in lauric acid, and it starts to tell you that it’s good for everything: It’s good for acne...It’s going to cure the common cold. It’s going to help you lose weight. None of those things are proven at all,” cautions Clark.

Coconut oil has proven results in the kitchen, however. It’s a vegan-friendly substitute for butter since it stays solid at room temperature.

“It cooks food beautifully because it can withstand pretty high temperatures,” says Clark, who adds that it doesn’t impart a bitter flavor like other cooking oils. “It gives just a real gentle sweetness to foods.”

Because of that slight sweetness, coconut oil isn’t a full-scale replacement for all standard cooking oils. Clark recommends using it for sauteing things like chicken or vegetables and is particularly enthusiastic about using coconut oil for preparing sweet potatoes.

It’s hard to say whether coconut oil is just a momentary craze, or whether it’s going to become a go-to for baked goods. The reality, though, is that coconut oil in its unaltered form has been around for ages.

“Coconut oil could be a passing fad in terms of, let’s say, Americans eating large amounts of it to get its lauric acid,” says Dr. Brenna, “but there are populations that eat a lot of coconut oil and seem to be pretty healthy.”

Below, get Melissa Clark’s recipe for double coconut granola, which will appear in her upcoming book, "Cook This Now." (It’s out in October from Hyperion.)

Double Coconut Granola
Makes about 7 cups

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups raw pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
  • 1 cup coconut chips
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries

1. Preheat the oven to 300° F.
2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, pecans, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, maple syrup, coconut oil, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake until golden all over, about 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
3. Transfer the granola to a large bowl and add the cherries, tossing to combine.

Guests:

Melissa Clark

Hosted by:

Amy Eddings

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Comments [6]

Greg

Only a valid atherosclerosis study proves, with real (not epidemiological) evidence, that this oil is safe. This requires, specifically:
1. Virgin coconut oil
2. Direct human arterial examination or imaging
3. Enrollment in our region

THIS STUDY DOES NOT EXIST.

May. 06 2013 08:14 PM
Coco a.k.a. Opera Girl from San Francisco, CA

I also have a Double Coconut Granola recipe on my blog that's been my most popular post, hands down! Melissa is onto something! =) It's a little different from this one, using unsweetened shredded coconut and honey, and minus the the other fruity/nutty add-ins.

Feb. 03 2012 11:17 AM
mat Burns from palm beach gardens

Be sure to only use 100% pure virgin coconut oil, to really enjoy the taste and benifits. Add half a teaspoon when searing Tuna...yum! I like the one from Fiji. www.naturalfijiusa.com

Apr. 06 2011 03:21 PM
EM from Tampa

Coconut oil is a plant-based saturated fat and as the article stated, research is revealing that all saturated fats are not bad for you. There is also research showing the positive effects of coconut oil on Alzheimer patients. Here is a site that talks about it: http://bit.ly/fBT9MY

Apr. 04 2011 01:14 PM
a g from n j

it's a healthy saturated fat. please don't compare it to lard, or butter, or cottonseed oil. it's highly medicinal,alkalizing,wonderful stuff. don't use the oil that has been hydrogenated . not all saturated fat is good for you though. as for margarine,that's liquid plastic,so just about anything is better than that !

Apr. 03 2011 01:24 AM
K from NY

In fact, saturated fat is *good* for you! All the bad press behind the FDA's victimization of saturated fat comes from the "Seven Countries Study" done in the mid-1900s by Ancel Keys. The conclusions raised by this study have been proven to be wrong time and again. However, because the food industry has such a stranglehold on the entire US food market, a major part of the American public still believes all fats are bad. The FDA guidelines that our doctors use to help us make decisions about diet & lifestyle are sculpted to fit the needs of the industry, and thus margarine (which is a trans-fat) is always promoted over more healthy saturated fat, like coconut oil.

Apr. 01 2011 09:11 PM

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