November 13, 2012
Coco-Crazy: The Dish on Coconut Oil, Milk, and Water
For the past 60 years, the all-knowing doctors of Western medicine have shunned the humble coconut as a source of bad, saturated fat and a straight ticket to high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease. Meanwhile, Pacific Islanders sticking to their native, coconut-heavy diets have healthier hearts and slimmer waistlines than the ever-burgeoning American standard. The real culprit here isn’t natural saturated fat, Dr. Mercola tells the Huffington Post. “The fact is, all saturated fats are not created equal.” The operative word, he says, is “created.” Artificial fats made saturated through a process called hydrogenation are called trans fats. Dr. Mercola advises consumers to avoid these like the plague, but to indulge in coconut oil freely. That’s because saturated fats that occur naturally—like those found in coconut oil and milk—have the following benefits: • Improves your cardiovascular health. • Supports thyroid balance. • Supports immune health. • Helps prevent and even reverse dementia. • Boosts metabolism and helps eliminate excess fat, particularly around gut. (Farmers in the 1940s tried to fatten their cows by feeding them cheap coconut oil. The cows actually lost weight!) • Is one of the best sources of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are easier for the body to break down and use for energy—like with carbohydrates, but without the insulin spike. Most other vegetable oils, however, are long-chain fatty acids and more difficult to use, easier to store as fat. Coconut oil: multifunctional Coconut oil makes great DIY cosmetics like lotions and hair conditioners, as it has great anti-aging, anti-viral, antibacterial, and moisturizing properties. It’s also an asset in the kitchen. When cooked, coconut oil has a similar taste to butter, which makes it great for fish, stir-fries, and more. For baking recipes, use half the amount of butter and substitute the rest with coconut oil—it tastes the same, if not better! Coconut milk: proceed with caution Coconut milk is attributed with similar benefits—weight loss, immune system health, cardiovascular health, and skin and hair vitality—but should be consumed with more caution. It’s not poor coconut milk’s fault, though. Most companies store coconut milk in either Tetra-Paks or aluminum cans. Tetra-Pak varieties tend to be preserved by guar gum, which some people will find difficult to digest, or carageenan, which is associated with inflammation and cancer. (Many animal studies use carageenan to induce inflammation and edema.) Sweetened varieties also pack on undue calories, sometimes with unhealthy fake sugars. On the other hand, aluminum cans leach BPA into acidic or fatty contents, like coconut oil. Even BPA-free varieties just add BPS, an equally harmful, estrogenic substance. Coconut water: drink for fun, not the fad Coconut water, on the other hand, has recently gained celebrity as an athlete’s drink of choice. While coconut water does have electrolytes and potassium, it also has calories. Most recreational athletes benefit as much if not more from calorie-free water, since we don’t really lose enough electrolytes to necessitate fast re-absorption. The verdict? It's great for endurance athletes but for the average person, drink for the taste when your other option is a soda, and aim to stick to water.