While slathering coconut oil on your skin and lying in the sun may not do wonders for your health, eating it might. Once a health food taboo due to its high levels of saturated fat, coconut oil has recently earned an honored status in certain circles of holistic health. Proponents use the oil to treat everything from skin conditions to digestive disorders, but can it really live up to its wonder drug status?
Fat is Not a Four-Letter Word
Healthy fats are an essential part of maintaining a healthy weight. They help to keep your body satiated for longer and assist in the absorption of several vitamins. Under most circumstances, the term "healthy" fat denotes the unsaturated variety. Coconut oil, however, contains 92 percent saturated fat. So why is coconut oil considered good for you? Most saturated fats contain long-chain fatty acids, but coconut oil contains mostly medium-chain fatty acids. These medium-chain fatty acids are quickly metabolized in the liver and converted into energy, not fat like their longer counterparts. Just be sure to consume only virgin coconut oil; the partially hydrogenated varieties contain limited nutrients and can actually raise your cholesterol levels.
Ditch the Carcinogens and Get Cooking
With a mildly sweet taste and buttery texture, coconut oil is the perfect complement to popcorn, stir-fry and a number of other dishes prepared at high temperatures. As one of the few oils that is recommended for high-heat cooking, coconut oil is less likely to break down, producing fewer carcinogens and retaining more nutrients than other cooking oils. Bonus: coconut oil makes a great butter replacement when it's your turn to bake your vegan cousin's birthday cake.
Lauric Acid is Your Ally
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With its high heat tolerance and quickly metabolized fat, coconut oil has clearly earned its place in the world of healthy eating. But it's the oil's star saturated fat, lauric acid, that gives it such a cult following. Known for possessing anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties, lauric acid has been touted as treatment for a variety of ailments ranging from acne to HIV. Fans of coconut oil also claim that lauric acid helps speed up your metabolism, assisting in weight loss and improving digestion.
Be Your Own Research Lab
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While many holistic health advocates are fanatical about the internal benefits of coconut oil, science has yet to catch up. There is little research to support the vast number of health claims made by proponents, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try it out for yourself. Most doctors agree that while it may not be the next wonder drug it is a healthy food, when used in moderation.
Michelle Shea Walker is a certified holistic health coach, wellness writer and vegan/gluten-free blogger. Her health coaching business, Health Happiness & Hula Hoops, has been featured on Fitness Magazine’s website and boasts some of Chicago’s hottest burlesque starlets as clients. Based on her life-styling motto that “Health is beauty,” she specializes in helping young women increase their energy, decrease their stress and discover a healthy glow.