I admit I was late to join the coconut oil craze but it's quickly become a staple in my pantry, and not just because it's delicious.
But coconut oil is very high in saturated fat (about 90 percent) -- a type of fat that has, for quite some time, been associated with elevated blood cholesterol levels and increased heart disease risk. The Dietary Guidelines tells us to limit this nutrient, yet a growing body of research has caused a rethink of whether saturated fat is actually bad for us at all.
So what is the deal with coconut oil then?
Well, while it's high in saturated fat, we know that not all saturated fats are created equal -- and this is where some of the believed health benefits of coconut oil come into play.
To simplify things, here's an overview of some of the coconut oil's most noteworthy benefits:
Easy-to-Use Energy Source
Lauric acid, the predominant saturated fat in coconut oil, is a medium-chain fatty acid. The body uses these types of fatty acids differently than the long-chain fatty acids that make up a large percentage of other dietary fats. Medium-chain fatty acids are processed by the liver and are quickly converted into energy by our cells, which is why studies like this one from 2003, and another from 2008, suggest that these particular fatty acids may be beneficial for weight loss -- in moderation of course.
Good Cholesterol Booster
As far as blood cholesterol levels are concerned, consumption of solid fats like coconut oil that are rich in lauric acid have been linked to increases in both "good" (HDL) and "bad" (LDL) cholesterol levels. Though your "bad" cholesterol may go up, so should your good cholesterol. The evidence suggests coconut oil may have a neutral, or even slightly beneficial effect on cholesterol levels when used in place of other saturated, or trans-fats.
Antimicrobial and Antioxidant Advantages
Coconut oil has long been revered for its bug-fighting properties. Though more research needs to be done in this area, coconut oil contains compounds thought to prevent or fight certain viral, bacterial and fungal infections like the flu, bronchitis, yeast infections, acne and more. Additionally, coconut oil, particularly unrefined or virgin coconut oil, contains phenolic compounds which have protective, antioxidant properties.
Convenient for Cooking
As far as cooking benefits are concerned, coconut oil is a more solid oil that is both mild in flavor and fairly heat stable. It works well for a variety of dishes, particularly baked goods and medium-heat sautes. The mild taste makes it a popular choice for curries or other dishes that benefit from a hint of tropical flavor.
Simple Skincare Solution
Coconut oil has benefits beyond food and nutrition. It doubles as a great make-up remover and moisturizer, especially during cold winter months when skin is more susceptible to dryness and cracking.
So, is coconut oil all it's cracked up to be?
Due to its high lauric acid content, virgin coconut oil is a great substitute for other types of saturated fats, such as lard and butter, and trans fats, such as vegetable shortening. But, despite having several great qualities, coconut oil is still a fat, and all fats are calorie-dense so it's best to use in moderation.
Which brings me to my next point. It's great for cooking, but should it be the only oil you use?
For beauty purposes it can be, but it's probably best not to rely on just one cooking oil. Using it in addition to other types of cooking oils will not only produce better results depending on the type of dish you're preparing, but will also provide a variety of other important fats, like those heart-healthy Omega-3s.
Bottom Line: If it's not in your kitchen cabinet already, consider adding coconut oil to your collection.
Shopping Tip: Choosing unrefined, or "virgin" coconut oil will provide the most benefits since processing practices can negate its favorable properties.
Do you use coconut oil at home? What are some of your favorite ways to use it?
Also on The Huffington Post:
Studies show that not getting enough calcium may trigger the release of calcitrol, a hormone that causes us to store fat. Therefore, meeting your daily calcium needs through consumption of low-fat dairy products helps to burn fat more efficiently. Dairy products can boost weight loss efforts, according to a recent study in obesity research. People on a reduced-calorie diet who included three to four servings of dairy foods lost significantly more weight than those who ate a low-dairy diet containing the same number of calories. Low-fat yogurt is a rich source of weight-loss-friendly calcium, providing about 450 mg per 8-ounce serving, as well as 12 grams of protein.
Berries are high in fiber -- and fiber keeps you full and satisfied all day on little calories. A 1 cup serving of raspberries contains 8 grams of fiber and only 60 calories! Strawberries, blackberries and blueberries are all high-fiber berries. Fiber also acts like a sponge and absorbs and moves fat through our digestive system faster so that less of it is absorbed.
Foods that contain Vitamin C help metabolize fat faster and make losing weight less difficult. You only need 60 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C a day to meet your body's basic needs, but raising your daily intake to 500 mg could boost your fat burning potential during exercise by 39 percent. Researchers at Scripps Clinic found that participants who ate half a grapefruit with each meal in a 12-week period lost an average of 3.6 pounds. The study indicates that the unique chemical properties in this vitamin C-packed citrus fruit reduce insulin levels, which promotes weight loss. NOTE: If you are taking medication, check with your doctor about any potentially adverse interactions with grapefruit.
Green tea contains caffeine, which is a natural stimulant that can help your body burn more calories while at rest. Caffeine speeds up the heart rate and also frees fatty acids stored in the body, making them more readily available for energy use. Also, green tea contains a compound called ECGC that may help to boost your metabolism as well by speeding up the brain and nervous system.
Water helps to rid the body of toxins and chemicals that may be slowing down your overall metabolism. A new study seems to indicate that drinking water actually speeds up weight loss. Researchers in Germany found that subjects of the study increased their metabolic rates (the rate at which calories are burned) by 30 percent after drinking approximately 17 ounces of water. Water is also a natural appetite suppressant that banishes bloat as it flushes out sodium and toxins. Make sure that you are starting your day with a big glass of water and drink throughout the day, not just all at one time.
These fish all contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which, besides being incredibly healthy, seem to affect metabolism. Omega-3 fatty acids alter levels of leptin, a hormone in the body that directly influences metabolism and determines whether you burn calories or store them as fat. Fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) increase the levels of fat-burning enzymes and decrease the levels of fat-storage enzymes. It's been shown to boost metabolism by as much as 400 calories per day.
Eating lean protein helps to preserve muscle mass during weight loss, keeping metabolism running at full speed. Countless studies have shown that protein can help boost metabolism, lose fat and build lean muscle tissue so you burn more calories.
Studies show that the chemical compound capsacin, found in peppers, speeds up your heart rate and metabolism. Eating a very spicy meal can actually speed up the metabolism by about 25 percent for up to three hours. Keep crushed red pepper on the table to spice up everything from scrambled eggs to soup to pasta.
Study after study links calcium and weight loss. Broccoli is not only high in calcium, but is also loaded with vitamin C, which boosts calcium absorption. This member of the nutritious cabbage family also has plenty of vitamin A, folate and fiber. At just 20-calories per cup, this weight-loss superfood fights fat and also contains powerful phytochemicals that boosts your immunity and protect against disease. Try it chopped in your salad, or sautéed and used in an omelet or as a side dish.
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