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Coconut Oil: The Truth Behind the Trend

Coconut oil is one of the hottest health trends on the food scene. Everywhere you look it seems people are raving about its nutritional benefits and wide range of uses, from butter replacement and facial moisturizer to natural diaper rash cure!

But is coconut oil all it’s cracked up to be? Nutritionists and doctors mostly agree that the jury is still out. Lack of long-term studies and conclusive evidence of coconut oil’s benefits leave few health professionals willing to say what many want to believe: that coconut oil is a miracle of nature that improves heart health and promotes weight loss.

Coconut oil, heart health and weight loss

Most forms of saturated fat (butter, red meat, eggs and the like) are made up of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Coconut oil is nearly 90 percent saturated fat—compared with butter, at 64 percent—but the saturated fat found in coconut oil comprises medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), which the body metabolizes differently and which raise both good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. While early indicators point to the possibility that MCFA may not increase the risk of heart disease, no conclusive studies show they reduce heart disease risk.

MCFA also play a role in coconut oil’s growing reputation as a weight-loss aid. Because MCFA are more water soluble than other oils and thus make their way to the liver more directly, they are more likely to be burned for fuel than other fats. That said, no scientific evidence exists proving coconut oil will help you lose weight.

Doctors’ orders: As with any fat, use coconut oil in moderation. In general, stick with oils we know boost heart health, like olive oil, until longer-term studies on the effects of MCFA and coconut oil overall are complete. And keep in mind that only 10 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fatty acids, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Cooking with coconut oil

Many cooks experimenting with coconut oil find they love it regardless of purported health benefits. Vegans often prefer it to shortening and margarine in recipes, and bakers find it’s an excellent replacement for butter when they’re looking for a slightly tropical or nutty flavor in their pastries, pies and tarts.

If you love to bake and want to give coconut oil a try, you can use it in place of butter or oil in most recipes. When buying coconut oil, be sure to get virgin coconut oil and not refined coconut oil, which has gone through a chemical distillation process.

These Top-Notch Bran Muffins come out equally moist when made with coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. Keep in mind, coconut oil is solid at room temperature and has the consistency of shortening. When replacing oil in a recipe, melt the coconut oil by setting the jar in a bowl of warm water.

If you’ve been participating in the Kretschmer Wheat Germ Granolapalooza (it’s not too late!), try swapping out canola oil with equal parts melted coconut oil in our Homemade Granola with Wheat Germ

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