I remember at one of my first CrossFit sessions, my coach threw a sample packet of coconut oil at me. WHAT IS THIS?! I cried. All I knew about coconut oil was coconut oil = saturated fat = BAD. I mean, that’s what was drilled into me during 4 years of college studying nutrition. Nevertheless, I decided to go home, make some banana carrot muffins (recipe below) with coconut oil and do some research. Turns out coconut oil is getting a new reputation!
Coconut oil may be the new trendy food but it has been around for ages in the tropical parts of the world. Yes, coconut oil is high in saturated fat (about 90% of fat in coconut oil is saturated) but not all saturated fat is created equal. Most of the fat in coconut oil is in the form of MCFA (medium chain fatty acids), the fatty acids found in MCTs (medium chain triglyceride). MCTs are a more easily burned source of energy than the long chain fatty acid type. It has been characterized as having “a more favorable effect on total:HDL cholesterol than any other fatty acid, either saturated or unsaturated.”
The most awesome thing about coconut oil? It behaves like a carbohydrate in your body providing instant energy (versus being stored away as fat) WITHOUT causing an insulin spike like carbohydrates do! Dietitians and interns like me are quite familiar with the use of MCTs; because it is so easily hydrolyzed and absorbed into the body we use MCTs in many of the tube feeding formulas for our patients with fat malabsorption or sensitive GI tracts.
MCTs may even aid in weight loss; in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers had a group of 49 overweight men and women adopt a calorie-restricted diet and included a daily dose of either MCT oil or olive oil representing 12% of their energy intake for 16 weeks. Results? The MCT group had significantly more weight loss than the olive oil group. These results are consistent with other studies that demonstrate reduction in weight and body fat in overweight participants who consumed MCT oil as part of their diet. Other studies have suggested MCTs can improve cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity and certain neurological conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease, although more research is needed in these areas.
Because of its fatty acid profile, coconut oil has a higher smoke point than other fats which means you can cook at higher temperatures without oxidation or heat damage. It’s great for medium-high sautéing and in baked goods like banana bread and muffins. It’s also a good choice when preparing curries, stews or salads that pair well with that tropical flavor… and of course bulletproof coffee wouldn’t be the same without coconut oil! Choose unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil when shopping (unrefined; extracted from mature coconuts without the use of high temperatures/chemicals).
Coconut products come in many forms besides oil! Coconut flour, coconut cream, coconut butter, coconut milk, coconut water…see the chart below for nutritional benefits and uses of these products. Coconuts have all the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) as well as being rich in minerals like copper, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium and selenium.
|Coconut oil||Oil extracted from coconut meat||100% fat||Excellent for cooking and baking and a great moisturizer for skin/hair|
|Coconut water||Liquid found inside young coconuts||Natural sugars and electrolytes combined with only traces of protein and fat||Great postworkout drink|
|Coconut milk||Liquid obtained from pressing grated coconut meat||Dairy- and lactose-free milk that’s rich in fats||Dairy-free alternative for smoothies, creamy sauces, and soups|
|Coconut cream||Same as coconut milk, only with less water (thicker consistency)||Higher in fat compared with coconut milk||Dairy-free alternative for smoothies, creamy sauces, and soups|
|Coconut flour||Ground dried, defatted coconut meat||Low in carbohydrates and rich in fiber||Cookies, muffins, and other baked goods (requires special recipes and can’t replace other flours using a simple ratio)|
|Coconut butter||Ground coconut meat with the consistency of a nut butter||High in fat (also known as coconut manna or coconut cream concentrate)||Can be used as any nut butter: by the spoonful, as a spread, in smoothies, or in baked goods recipes|
Coconut oil provides an instant energy boost, may help protect against diseases, and has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties…plus it tastes so damn good. It definitely has a place in a healthy diet. Thanks, Coach, for introducing me to the ultimate boomsauce*!
*Boomsauce: the highest possible degree of amazing and perfection, a billion times stronger than “awesome sauce” –Urban Dictionary
Paleo Carrot Banana Muffins (grain free, no added sugar. From paleoplan.com
- 2 cups almond flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 Tbs cinnamon
- 1 cup dates, pitted
- 3 ripe bananas
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1 ½ cups carrots, shredded
- ¾ cup walnuts (or nuts of choice), finely chopped
- muffin paper liners
- Preheat oven to 350℉.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
- In a food processor, combine dates, bananas, eggs, vinegar and oil.
- Add mixture from food processor to dry mixture in the large bowl and combine thoroughly.
- Fold in carrots and nuts.
- Spoon mixture into paper lined muffin tins.
- Bake at 350° for 25 minutes.
Bayla Bryski is a Dietetic Intern at NY Presbyterian Hospital
Follow her on Instagram@ paleonutritionist for easy, nutritious recipes!
 Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester ADM, Katan MB (May 2003). “Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials”. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 77 (5): 1146–1155
 St-Onge MP, Bosarge A. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87: 3621-3626.)