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The Benefits of (and Controversy Over) Coconut Oil

I’m a coconut oil aficionado now. I cook my protein pancakes with it, bake shrimp in it, spread it on my baked sweet potato, drizzle it over sliced apples, and add it to my macaroni and cheese (instead of butter). Along with olive oil, it has become my main alternative to eliminating processed oils – including the “hateful eight oils”: canola, corn cottonseed, soy, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed and ricebran oils – from my diet.

And to think, years ago I’d be perceived as looney by the health community for my obsession with coconut oil. That’s because back in the day coconut oil was branded a no-no, along with other highly saturated fats. But coconut oil has been making a comeback as many of those claims have now been refuted. As a Latino, I appreciate this – because if there’s one region of the world that could get in on the coconut oil game, it’s Latin America…plenty of coconuts.

Coconut oil can now be seen as an essential element to a healthy diet due to its antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties, which come from it being one of our best natural resources (besides breast milk). It is also slow to oxidize, which means it’s super shelf-stable and not prone to rancidity.

Composite-wise, coconut oil contains a rich cornucopia of fatty acids and proteins that sustain antioxidants and are rich in those medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA’s) – Caprylic acid, Lauric acid and Capric acid.

Approximately 60% of all coconut oils are comprised of the above three fatty acids, while 90% of coconut oil fats are comprised of heart-healthy saturated fats. Now, that is pretty high when it comes to saturated fats, which is the main reason coconut oil was disregarded for such a long time. For example, 14% of olive oil calories come from saturated fat, and 63% of butter’s calories come from saturated fat.

But these days, nutritionists have gravitated to MCFA’s since they’re easily digestible – and because they’re processed by the liver, MCFA’s are more effectively and quickly converted to energy, and not fat, inside the body.

Additionally, coconut oil promotes brain development, and is less likely to cause weight gain than polyunsaturated oils. It also contributes to strong bones and has anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial effects. Yep, plenty of benefits – just make sure you work in a good jog during the week.

Virgin coconut oil is at the top of my list for the simple reason that it is a natural, nourishing fat, rather than an industrialized, hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oil. Industrial oils may be less expensive, but herein lies a perfect example of you get what you pay for.

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