Coconut Craze

Coconut oil is one of the latest health trends that you might see on the internet or health food stores.  Coconut oil is a tropical oil made from the coconut fruit.  There are many health claims about coconut oil ranging from the treatment of lice to treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  However, not all claims related to coconut oil have been substantiated by research.

There are two main types of coconut oil used in cooking: virgin and refined.  Virgin coconut oil is extracted from the fruit of fresh mature coconuts without using chemicals or high temperatures.  This type of coconut is considered “unrefined” and has a light, sweet, nutty flavor and aroma.  It is often used for baking or sautéing at temperatures less than 350 degrees.

Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat.  It is often chemically bleached and deodorized.  It lacks the sweet-nutty flavor of virgin coconut oil.  Refined coconut is often used for baking or stir-frying, or cooking at temperatures up to 425 degrees.

Sometimes food manufacturers use a version of coconut oil that has been processed further to produce partially hydrogenated coconut oil.  Partially hydrogenated coconut oil contains trans fat.  We should limit our consumption of trans fats.

Coconut oil is considered a solid fat.  It is 92% saturated fat, which is the highest amount of saturated fat of any fat.  In fact, with the exception of palm kernel oil, all other common cooking oils, including canola, corn, safflower, soybean, flaxseed, and olive oil, contain significantly less saturated fat than coconut oil.

Many people believe that coconut oil may have positive health benefits even though it is high in saturated fat.  There is some evidence that coconut oil may have a neutral, or perhaps beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Coconut oil is a plant based food, so it does not contain any cholesterol. However, we do know that too much saturated fat in the diet is unhealthy because it raises “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.

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