If you read the ingredients in a lot of my “eat clean” recipes you’ll notice I use coconut milk and extra virgin coconut oil with regularity. My son absolutely loves coconuts (that’s him in the photo above after just cracking open a fresh one!) and likes to eat them fresh as a snack. But, since coconut oil does contain a lot of saturated fat and since saturated fat has come under a great deal of scrutiny I thought I’d just briefly clear up any coconut confusion.
Plant-Based Saturated Fats
Animal-Based Saturated Fats
First of all, coconut oil does contain a large amount of saturated fat, but the plant-based saturated fat found in unrefined coconut is completely different than the saturated fat found in animal foods. It’s very important to understand that just as not all fats are created equal, all saturated fats are not created equal either. Just as there are “good fats” and “bad fats”, there are also “good saturated fats” and “bad saturated fats”.
Unrefined whole coconut meat, coconut milk and extra virgin coconut oil are “good saturated fats” and have a completely different biochemical makeup than the saturated fats found in animal foods. Epidemiological studies show the saturated fats found in animal foods (such as butter, beef, dairy, turkey, chicken, eggs, etc) is harmful to heart health but that the saturated fat found in unrefined and unprocessed coconut foods is not harmful (1). Even though many people have for years been lumping all saturated fats together and have been blaming all saturated fats for increasing the risk of heart disease, population studies of people living in the Pacific Islands and Asia, whose diets are naturally very high in unrefined coconut foods, show surprisingly low incidences of cardiovascular disease. In 1992 researchers reviewed some of the epidemiological and experimental data regarding coconut-eating groups and noted that the available population studies show coconut consumption does not lead to high-serum cholesterol nor to high coronary heart disease mortality or morbidity (2).
All Coconut Foods Are NOT Created Equal
You’ll notice I’ve been stressing that the coconut foods eaten in the population studies mentioned above have been unrefined and unprocessed. Just like all saturated fats are not equal, all coconut foods are not equal either. Most coconut foods found in commercially prepared products have been highly processed and are not at all the same as the unrefined coconut foods eaten by the heart-healthy Pacific Islanders. For example, highly processed coconut oils found in convenience items such as microwave popcorn, artificial coffee creamers, nondairy whipped toppings, vegetable shortenings, etc. have all been highly processed, stripped of innate nutrients and exposed to chemical solvents. Eating processed coconut oil is absolutely harmful. In fact, any studies that have ever shown coconut oil to have a negative effect on health have all been on processed coconut foods. Specifically, processed coconut oils contain hydrogenated oils and we now know it is the hydrogenated oils (which contain trans fats) that are harmful to your health, not the unrefined coconut.
Coconuts Fit Perfectly into an “Eat Clean” Diet
There’s even more good news about coconuts; unlike the saturated fat from animal foods, plant-based coconuts and extra virgin coconut oil that has not been refined (the “cleanest” form) will contain disease-fighting phytochemicals that are only found in plant-foods. Coconuts are also rich in lauric acid, which has very powerful anti-bacterial / anti-viral properties and is well known to support a healthy immune system and even facilitate brain function.
I am absolutely not suggesting you start gobbling bowlfuls of coconut meat or adding coconut oil by the heaping tablespoon full to every meal. I’m just saying unrefined coconut in moderation is not harmful to your health. I’m also saying the saturated fat found in unrefined coconut can not be classified in the same category as the saturated fat found in animal foods.
If you are familiar with our first book, The Gold Coast Cure, you’ll recall we recommended keeping your saturated fat intake to less than 15 grams a day. This recommendation was based on the research we did on diet and multiple sclerosis as outlined in Roy Swank, M.D.’s The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book among other scientific journals such as the Journal of Neurology. Limiting your saturated fat intake to 15 grams or less per day was the only “counting” we encouraged in our book and we still stand by that recommendation. However, you can still eat a good amount of coconut on a clean foods diet and not go over that limit.
Eat Clean! Choose a High Quality Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Finally, if you like to cook, extra virgin coconut oil is a FABULOUS substitute for butter (especially in baked foods.) Just like butter, coconut oil is very heat stable, so it resists oxidation and can withstand high-heat temperatures. However, it is extremely important you choose the absolute highest quality extra virgin coconut oil and that you don’t settle for second best oils labeled “virgin” or simply “coconut oil”. I’ve come to rely on Barlean’s Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oils for supplying the best-tasting coconut oil. In addition, my husband and I have personally met the Barlean family and we know their commitment to quality. For example, they use only hand-selected and fresh-picked coconuts for their oil; coconuts that are immature or overripe or that have fallen to the ground are nutritionally inferior and not used to make Barlean’s oils. Barlean’s oils are also carefully cold-pressed to preserve nutrients from the whole coconut and they are processed without the use of chemical solvents or hard mechanical filtration.
Beyond the Kitchen & Into the Bathroom…
I’ll save my other uses for coconut oil for another article. But for now I can tell you I have coconut oil in my kitchen AND in my bathroom!
- N. I. Lipoeto, et al. “Dietary Intake and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease among the Coconut-Consuming Minangkabua in West Sumutra, Indonesia,” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 13(2004): 377-84.
- H. Kaunitz and C.S. Dayrit, “Coconut Oil Consumption and Coronary Heart Disease,” Phillippine Journal of Internal Medicine 30 (1992): 165-71.