If you’ve been listening to any talk recently about eating healthy, more than likely, you’ve heard the words “coconut oil” thrown around. In fact, you’ve probably heard all sorts of positives said about all things coconut. As with lots of food trends or fads, things light up and then they fizzle out, so we wondered: Is coconut oil (and coconut products, in general) headed for the door or is it worth keeping around?
Turns out, there are plenty of reasons to keep the coconut oil coming. Studies show that coconut has antimicrobial and anti-bacterial properties, and it may improve HDL levels (the “good” cholesterol). Coconuts contain saturated fats but they are plant-based fats, rather than saturated fats from animal products and the body uses them differently. Coconuts contain lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid, as opposed to the long-chain fatty acids found in animal products. Medium-chain fatty acids are easier for our bodies to digest, absorb and use for energy, so as an oil substitute, coconut may be a new and healthy way to go (but don’t abandon your EVOO altogether!).
If you’re looking to substitute coconut oil for other oils (or butter) in your kitchen, it’s pretty easy. Coconut has a high smoke point (the point at which an oil smokes is the point at which the oil begins to degrade and produce free radicals), so cooking with it can be very convenient. Using coconut oil to replace butter is also relatively easy, as it becomes solid at room temperature. Most people recommend using a 3:4 ratio when using coconut oil as a baking substitute, so get ready for a little math in your next cookie recipe.
In addition to coconut oil, people are turning to coconut water, coconut milk and coconut sugar as alternatives to their traditional counterparts, and there are some well-founded reasons to do so. Coconut water (the liquid found in young coconuts) is full of antioxidants and potassium, making it a good way to replace electrolytes and rehydrate—but don’t skip your water. Your body still needs water to function at its best–just use that coconut water as a boost. Coconut milk comes from the coconut meat, and as an alternative to cow’s milk, it has its merits. Coconut milk does not contain lactose or dairy protein, so it’s great for people with intolerances and allergies. It also has a similar texture and flavor to cow’s milk. Lots of coconut milks are also fortified with calcium, so you’re not missing out on that benefit from cow’s milk. Coconut sugar has some perks too. While coconut and cane sugar have a very similar calorie count, coconut sugar is generally less refined, and so it retains more nutrients than cane sugar. Coconut sugar also apparently has a lower glycemic index, which is important to consider for people with diabetes, for example. More and more, people are looking at natural alternatives to refined sugar, and coconut sugar is a viable option.
We can’t say if the craze will last, if coconut products are really the wonder foods that many claim them to be. We say find a balance in all things. Try adding some coconut oil to your diet in some ways, but don’t cut out your extra virgin olive oil altogether. See what you think of coconut milk on your next bowl of cereal, or try out coconut sugar the next time you bake. Let us know what you think! Just remember to keep your diet varied and balanced while you work some coconut into the mix.