“There’s one every year. An “it” ingredient that’s declared the ultimate power food. Not long ago, it was salmon with its healthy Omega 3s. Then came blueberries and their antioxidants, then olive oil thanks to its good-for-you mono-unsaturated fats. So what will 2013 bring?
Say hello to coconut oil.
Long considered to be unhealthy because it’s a saturated fat, which generally contributes to heart disease, recent research is actually refuting that line of thinking and suggesting altogether the opposite: that coconut oil is not only heart healthy but also good for the body, inside and out, in a number of ways—from fighting off bacterial and viral infections to promoting weight loss to regulating blood sugar and thyroid function. “There is definitely a lot of talk about coconut oil right now,” says New York City nutritionist Adiana Castro, who runs her private practice, Compass Nutrition, in lower Manhattan and serves as the corporate nutritionist for the Federal Reserve Bank. “It makes a great substitute for just about any other kind of fat you would normally use and is better for you than butter or canola oil, for example.”
So why the change in thinking? Castro says research now indicates that, even though coconut oil is a saturated fat, it’s molecular composition is different from that of other saturated fats. Coconut oil, she explains, has special fats called medium chain fatty acids (known as MCFAs), as opposed to the long chain fatty acids normally found in other saturated fats. “The MCFAs in coconut oil are smaller and the body breaks them down and metabolizes them faster,” she says. “That means they’re likelier to get converted to energy rather than stored as fat.” Anyone who’s battled with weight or diabetes understands the importance of regulating the pace at which foods are digested, which also has a direct impact on blood sugar levels.
In addition, coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which Castro says has long been an ingredient in anti-bacterial and viral medications. Lauric acid has also been found to increase the good cholesterol in the body, known as HDL, which helps cholesterol levels in general stay in check.
While the list of coconut oil’s benefits goes on—it’s even used as a skin and hair moisturizer!”
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