The benefits of coconut oil

Updated on 28 February 2012 | 0 Comments

Have you ever considered using coconut oil? We take a look at its key benefits.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as much of a “foodie” type, I’ll bet my pestle & mortar you have a number of different types of oil in your cupboard.

There will be olive oil: perhaps a light one for cooking and an extra virgin for salads. A sunflower or vegetable oil and then maybe sesame, some nut oils and chilli oil.

Am I wrong? Yet you’re missing out if there isn’t a jar of coconut oil on the shelf. This has been a health and beauty secret of those in the know for a number of years, and it tastes lovely too – buttery, slightly sweet and, er, coconutty!

Supermodels swear by it

Now it’s been endorsed by beautiful people from Jennifer Aniston to the model Miranda Kerr - who attributes her fantastic post-baby body to coconut oil  - and the stuff is flying off the shelves. Even the England rugby squad are on it.

Fans such as Kerr use it to cook and bake with and add it to hot drinks and salads. It is also a good moisturiser and skin healer.

Its health claims include raising metabolism (which should aid weight loss) and having a beneficial effect on diabetes, hyperthyroidism, pancreatic and thyroid function, digestive problems, vitamin absorption and the immune system – though as you’d expect these are not accepted by the medical establishment.

Coconut oil is very fatty

Coconut oil looks quite unusual. It is a white, oily solid. A glance at the nutritional information might surprise you too as it is packed with saturated fat and calories. A 15g teaspoon contains around 135 calories, compared to 40 calories for olive oil.

Our bodies use different fats in different ways

This is a big difference, but we need to look at how the body uses the fat. First of all, coconut oil has a very high smoking point (much higher than olive oil) which means it is less likely to convert into trans fatty acids which can raise cholesterol.

It also contains high levels of lauric acid, which boosts immunity.

The key aspect for weight loss is the MCTs – medium-chain triglycerides - which are advocated by researchers in treating and preventing obesity. MCTs are burnt off more quickly than other fats.

Diets rich in these kinds of fat, which coconut oil is stuffed with, lead to better energy levels, more calories and an overall decrease in food consumption. In other words, if you cook your morning eggs in coconut oil or stir a teaspoon into your coffee, you’re unlikely to be reaching for the biscuit barrel come 11am.

Thanks to the celebrity endorsements from people like Miranda Kerr, who has said, “I will not go a day without coconut oil. I take four tablespoons per day, either on my salads, in my cooking or in my cups of green tea,” sales have shot up.

Where to buy it

Holland & Barrett sells an own brand coconut oil for £12.59 and reports that sales have increased by 50% in the past year.

An organic alternative is available from Pukka Herbs for £7.95. The company’s co-founder Sebastian Pole says, “Coconut is a highly nutritious food, rich in vitamins such as Vitamin C, Riboflavin and Thiamine and minerals such as calcium, iron and phosphorus.”

He also points out that people in Asia, Africa, Central America and the Pacific Islands have been cooking with coconut oil for thousands of years. It is also used in traditional medicine in these regions.

Cooking with it

If you’re unsure about how to cook with coconut oil, think about what the flavours of different oils bring to your cooking. Stir fries and curries, for example, are much better with nut oils because olive oil lends the wrong flavour. Coconut goes well with almost any Asian-inspired dish and, as it is fairly sweet, gives a round, nutty flavour to baking.

You may also be worried about fat consumption in general. We’re told we should be. But what many exponents of low fat eating forget to remind us is that we do need fat. Our bodies need it and our brains need it. The right sort and in the right quantities, but you should never try and cut out fat altogether – if you do, your body will react and develop cravings for the fatty foods it is missing out on.

One last thing, I’m afraid this piece should come with a warning: coconut oil can of course only aid weight loss as part of a controlled diet – and there’s zero chance it will bag you a body like Miranda Kerr’s!

Also worth your attention:

3 foods that will improve your life in 2011

Why butter is better

Where to find the perfect UK coconut

Diana Henry’s Thai-style broth


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