Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Food for Thought: What’s the Deal With Coconut Oil?

November 2nd, 2009 · 34 Comments · Fat Full Fall, Food for Thought, Science of Nutrition

Health Benefits of Coconut oil :: via Kitchen Stewardship

Coconut oil is perhaps one of the more divisive fats/oils out there, because the mainstream puts it at the very top of the “bad fats” list, while the traditional foodie folks seek it out as the healthiEST of fats (or so it feels at times, but maybe it’s because we’re engaging in an uphill battle).

Is Coconut Oil Bad for You?

Some sources say so.  Mostly if you believe that saturated fats are bad for you, then coconut oil, being 90% saturated fat, must therefore be bad for you.  But what if you believe the evidence that saturated fat is good for you?  Coconut oil is a hands-down winner.

  • I was sad to see coconut oil listed as the “most heart-unhealthy oils” at Ask Dr. Sears, a pediatrician whom I idolize on all other fronts.  It is also listed on my mother-in-law’s heart literature from the hospital after her double bypass this summer – under “Unhealthy Fats, Avoid” of course.  All “tropical  oils” meet this fate because of their saturated fat.  This article from Associated Content lists coconut oil as a “dangerous unhealthy cooking oil” right along with hydrogenated oils!
  • Evitamins.com cites some research studies with coconut oil that have pretty negative results as far as LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol, but they list sources of coconut oil as “processed foods, including fried foods, crackers, desserts, candies, whipped topping, and non-dairy creamer.”  Of course those sources, probably hydrogenated, aren’t going to do anyone any good!
  • A nicely balanced article at US News and World Report states that coconut oil has not been shown to promote weight loss in human studies, although it has in animals.  It has had proven positive impact on HDL, your good cholesterol, and the article gives it a “needs more research” vote at the end.  MSN Health and Fitness also examines both sides of the issue and concludes that virgin coconut oil “may be a harmless, neutral food.”  In that light, if you’re looking for a substitute for shortening or margarine or vegetable oil, what I would call, toxic, dangerous foods, coconut oil seems to be a great stand-in!
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

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Coconut oil is, in my opinion, the most unique “oil” I’ve ever encountered. Solid or liquid at room temperature depending on your climate, it can take the place of almost any fat or oil in your kitchen (but don’t worry about a monopoly or overthrow, coconut oil is very humble).

Here’s a short list of why I’m using coconut oil in MY kitchen:

  • very heat stable for frying, sauteeing (also nice bonus of a 2-year shelf life)
  • antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial properties (like garlic - great this time of year!!).  Evidence that it can kill cold and flu viruses.
  • fights yeast infections/Candida
  • lauric acid – a component of breastmilk, so rare that almost all formula has to use coconut oil just to get it in there!  (You can also get it in quality whole milk/cream.)
    • Lauric acid builds immunities and promotes heart health and brain development.
    • Inhibits cancer growth
    • Great for mother’s milk supply
  • medium-chain triglycerides are absorbed directly from the small intestine for quick energy.
  • promotes strong bones

Sources:  1, 2, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, Real Food by Nina Planck, Virgin Coconut Oil by Brian & Marianita Jader Shilhavy

For more on how to cook traditional foods and use traditional fats, see GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals.
Is Coconut Oil a Miracle Food?

A lot of people seem to swear by coconut oil for everything and rely on it as a miracle food.  I’ll review the Tropical Traditions book Virgin Coconut Oil this week, which is filled with such people.  I’ve really enjoyed cooking with coconut oil, and I add it to my oatmeal and smoothies sometimes, but when I think about it as a staple food and a “does-everything” gem, I always remember this:  coconuts are not grown in every part of the world.

If God intended us to subsist on coconuts, He wouldn’t have made them so temperature-exclusive. I don’t think coconut oil should be your exclusive fat, but there are diets that instruct the users to take a Tbs of coconut oil before every meal and have you cooking everything with coconuts.  I’m happy to order my coconut oil with the help of UPS, but traditional societies wouldn’t always have had access to coconut oil.  That being said, when Dr. Weston A. Price studied traditional cultures and their diets, he found that some tribes traveled far and wide to obtain fish.  Not everyone has fish, not everyone has coconut oil.  Did traditional Europeans and early Americans have access to coconut oil via trading?

I say, everything in moderation. If you’d like to try some, click here to win it!  Think about what you would be getting rid of if you switch to coconut oil.  It’s better than canola oil, corn oil, or Crisco, that’s for sure!  What to do with it?  See my coconut oil FAQ list and How-to page. Where to buy it? My best deal is HERE, and watch Tropical Traditions for free shipping HERE.

If you’ve missed any of the Fat Full Fall series, you’re missing out.  Check out the master list here.

What are others saying about Coconut Oil?

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Tropical Traditions has a page of research on fats and oils, too.  Find it here.

Note:  The winner of the King Arthur Flour was Melayla, comment no. 68.

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More on coconut oil this week!  Sign up for an email subscription or grab my reader feed.

If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.

Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

More great stuff at What I Learned This Week at Musings of a Housewife

I am a guest lecturer and partner with GNOWFGLINS eCourses, so I will earn commission from any sales made starting here. Of course, the courses are also an awesome way to learn to cook real food, so I’d gab about them anyway.

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34 Comments so far ↓

  • Stephanie

    When we first learned of coconut oils health benefits, I bought some and was using it in lots of things. In the past I have had some difficulty with blood clots in my legs. I began to develop them again, and after some research I am pretty sure the coconut oil was causing it. After not using it for 2 weeks, the blood clots cleared up. I use it in moderation because I LOVE the flavor of it, but just thought I’d share my experience with it!

  • Melanie

    Awesome post! I picked up some coconut oil a few weeks ago and have been sauteing with it. Thanks for putting some of the benefits out there! I do wonder though, when you use it in other recipes, (like, could I use it as a substitute in baking?) is it a straight substitution? A Tbs for a Tbs?
    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..What I Learned This Week =-.

    Katie Reply:

    Melanie,
    Coconut oil is oil, so yes, straight subs. See this post for more: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/11/03/faqs-on-coconut-oil-and-how-to-use-it/ :) Katie

  • Lenetta @ Nettacow

    Sigh, still can’t get the giveaway page to load. But I’ll keep trying! Thanks for the e-mail yesterday, I’ll keep that in mind, too. :>)

    The connection to breastmilk is fascinating!!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Dehydrator Giveaway! =-.

  • Musings of a Housewife

    As you know, I’m firmly on the coconut oil bandwagon. :-) Like you, I don’t think it’s the end-all, be-all in fats. Raw butter from grass-fed cows is also a very nutritious fat, and olive oil certainly has a place in my kitchen. But I do put coconut oil in most of my baked goods. I love that it has anti-bacterial properties. I also use it as eye makeup remover and as a topical (not to be confused with tRopical, lol, although it’s that too!) moisturizer.

  • emily

    i too have idolized Dr. Sears but his nutrition beliefs are NOT at all in line with traditional foods/whole foods eating. he believes in low fat everything for kids over age 2 amongst other anti-fat/anti-cholesterol junk. it makes me sad but I still appreciate his common sense adviceon attachment parenting, his son’s awesome vaccine book and other things.
    .-= emily´s last blog ..Real Eggs, Bread and Jam! =-.

  • Greta @ Mom Living Healthy

    This is as great look into the pros/cons of coconut oil. I appreciate you including your sources so I can be responsible and read the literature myself.

    The idea that saturated fats are good for you is very new to me and it really is taking me a while to get used to it! After so many years of believing they were just awful it is a big adjustment. I like that you’re recommending we use these in moderation though because it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement around these fats and go overboard in using them.
    .-= Greta @ Mom Living Healthy´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday =-.

  • April

    Katie, I never answered you about my thoughts on “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon, but you definitely summed them up here without realizing it! I thought there was a TON of great information in it, and even some decent looking recipes. However…I really think the book could have been accurately titled “All Coconut All the Time!!!” They definitely advocated eating a tablespoon of coconut oil before every meal, and their meal plan included coconut in one form or another in every single meal. Every. Single. Meal. I’m with you–I think coconut is only ONE of the wonderful, healthy foods that God has given us. Had He wanted us to eat coconut every day at every meal, I believe He would have made it more globally available. I am leery of any diet that is built so exclusively on one single food.

    That being said, I *love* coconut oil! A question for you–I don’t mind the coconut taste in most things, but sometimes it’s a little weird, so I use the refined coconut oil. Have you done any research on this? I’m not sure if the refining makes it a dangerous fat, or just not as nutritious. I can handle the latter, but I’d prefer to stay away from the former.
    .-= April´s last blog ..Paper plates =-.

    Katie Reply:

    April,
    Cheeseslave and I have had FB conversations about this, and even she said that if you’re cooking with it, you might as well have refined stuff b/c the high heat will negate the “raw” part. Now, that being said, I’ve done some more thinking on it, and “raw” isn’t the only benefit of virgin, unrefined coconut oil. I’ll default to that, but you’re right – coconut flavor isn’t always wanted. I think (note: I THINK, don’t know) that as long as you get quality stuff (organic would ensure no chemicals used in the processing, other than that you should call the manufacturer and ask questions about how it was refined), refined coconut oil is a good option (and cheaper), not dangerous but not quite as healthy as unrefined. Does that make any sense? Hope so! :) Katie

    PS – I love the quip about Eat Fat, Lose Fat!

  • Aprille

    I love your website! I am learning so much about things I didn’t know and information on how to get more organized and tackle the nightmare I call cooking. Thank you so much for sharing with us!

  • Cindy

    Hi Katie. Well, this is rather interesting. I was diagnosed with mono. Which is strange being 52! But I have been so bone draining tired and the doc said rest and fluids and waiting for it to run its course is about all we can do. Well, I decided to see if there were any natural helps for it. Guess what everyone says? Yep, coconut oil!!! So I got some caosules at the health food store and started taking it tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes! Apparantly it helps to stop the EB virus from dividing and helps to boost energy that the virus drains from you. I also want to get some B12 but they were out of it. I have high hopes. Also wanted to mention that thank you thank you thank you for the info on making homemade broths. That’s what first led me to your website and I had a ton of them in the freezer. Boy was that a godsend while I was so sick that all I could do was sip broth! Jesus bless you!!!!
    Cindy

    Katie Reply:

    Cindy,
    Wow, what an incredible story! I hope you are feeling better, and fast. Can’t wait to hear if you think the c. oil does anything! I’ve never seen it in capsule form…it’s good to cook with, too. Thank you for sharing – it really adds to the worth of the site
    :) Katie

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  • heidi

    SO I bought some of the expensive organic extra virgin coconut oil. It came completely frozen, yay midest winter. What affect does that have on its nutritional value?

    Katie Reply:

    Heidi,
    No problem! should be just fine, as far as I know. :) katie

  • Celine

    Hi Katie,

    I was wondering if there are better/worse places to purchase coconut oil. I’ve heard of Soapers Choice which offers it pretty cheap in bulk and wondered about it, because I think it’s a lot cheaper than Tropical Traditions. I would love any thoughts on it! Thanks so much!

    Celine

    Katie Reply:

    Celine,
    That’s where I get mine! Here’s all the Qs I asked them before deciding: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/08/13/a-good-deal-on-top-fats/ :) Katie

  • Monica, RD, LD

    I like your healthy option recipe for pumpkin muffins! As a Registered Dietitian, I have to disagree with your choice to use coconut oil. It is one of the least heart healthy oils because it contains high amounts of saturated fat. Canola oil would be a much better choice for baking – it is neutral in flavor and contains high amounts of heart healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats (essential fatty acids, omega-6′s and omega-3′s). These help to lower your “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and raise your “good cholesterol” (HDL). For more information, visit http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442462297&terms=canola+oil

    Katie Reply:

    Monica,
    nutrition is so tricky…something new comes out all the time. I go with what’s old. What fats have been around for 1000s of years? My family has switched to a high sat. fat diet for about 2 years, and no one has gained a pound. My husband’s HDL actually doubled when we started eating differently following a traditional foods diet, including more fat, esp. saturated. Crazy, right? Canola is just too new for me. :) Katie

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  • Santhy

    Love your site. I’ve been trying to get an answer to this question, unsuccessfully, so please help me if you can : unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of 350°F, and I’ve noticed that it smokes much sooner than refined vegetable oils. Then why is it considered stable?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Santhy,
    Industrial veg oils are highly refined, including deodorizing and bleaching, so they’re going to ACT stable because you can’t smell the rancidity, for example. As far as smoke point, refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point than unrefined, but unrefined and refined are both stable because they’re highly saturated, so the bonds won’t be breaking and oxidizing as easily as veg oils – even though you can’t really tell with the veg oils because of all the processing. In other words, the processed oils have a “smoke screen” of sorts hiding their evils from you. Nice, right?

    For a higher smoke point yet, you want something like tallow, which is even more stable.

    Does that help?
    :) Katie

    Santhy Reply:

    It sure does, thank you. To clarify, are you saying that unrefined coconut oil is not harmful even if it smokes? Are smoking and oxidising the same?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Santhy,
    I wish I knew the answer to that one, because it seems that all my oils are smoking lately! Sorry!!

  • Tiffany via Facebook

    Such a debated topic if you dare mention it outside of the “natural world!”. I love coconut oil. I use it most often in baking, put some in my coffee, oatmeal. Use it as a moisturizer.

  • Erin via Facebook

    Love coconut oil, especially for homemade chicken nuggets and in my morning coffee.

  • Heather via Facebook

    I <3 Coconut oil!!! I use it for so many things!!

  • Robin via Facebook

    We only use coconut oil, grass fed butter, some olive oil, little palm oli for 6 years now. Cocnut oil is the best, love it for so many things.

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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