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Good Fat? Bad Fat? It’s Enough To Drive You Coconuts!

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By Sandy Beck

For years, “fat-free” was the mantra of healthy food. Then we learned that our bodies need fat — the right kind of fat. That’s when things got confusing. So, allow me to present a sort of “fat primer.”

There are four major dietary fats: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats (the last one being a dubious invention of the food industry).

Monounsaturated fats are most abundant in foods like nuts and various plant oils — such as olive oil, canola oil, and avocado oil. They can lower the LDL (“lousy cholesterol,” as my doctor calls it) that clogs up our arteries and increase HDL (“healthy cholesterol”).

Polyunsaturated fats are the “essential fatty acids” (EFAs), Omega-6 and Omega-3 that are “essential” to the healthy functioning of our bodies. They can also help lower LDL and increase HDL. The body is incapable of producing these, so they must come from food. Omega-6 is found in vegetable oils and nuts. Omega-3 is most abundant in fatty fish.

Saturated fats and trans fats are the bad boys. They can raise levels of LDL in our bloodstream. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Some sources are beef, bacon, cheese, butter, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.

The worst type of fat is trans fats, or trans fatty acids. These both raise LDL and lower HDL. Trans fats are formed in a process called hydrogenation, which turns vegetable oils into a solid, such as margarine. Read labels. Do not buy products that list “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil” as an ingredient.

So, this is simple now. Just avoid saturated and trans fats — right? Not so fast. Not all saturated fats are created equal:  Some are long-chain and some are medium-chain — which refer to the length of their carbon chain.

Dark chocolate contains mostly a medium-chain saturated fat that does not raise LDL nearly as much as butter, a long-chain saturated fat. In fact, one study conducted at the National Institutes of Health, found that consumption of mostly medium-chain saturated fat (MCT), in the form of coconut oil did not differ from olive oil in its effects on cardiovascular disease risk. However, because this was a small study (just 31 people), most experts agree that more controlled studies are necessary.

Recently, “cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil,” a non-hydrogenated version, has been promoted as an even healthier choice; about 50 percent of virgin coconut oil's saturated fat is a medium-chain saturated fat.

So, if you’re ready to try virgin coconut oil consider it for your next stir-fry, as replacement for butter or lard in pie crusts or in your dairy-free baking.

Here are some other uses for virgin coconut oil:

  • Apply to your face and body as a basic moisturizing cream. Some have reported relief from skin problems such as psoriasis.
  • Smooth onto your face and cover with warm towel for a comforting facial.
  • Use as a salve on baby’s bottom. Safe for cloth diapers.
  • Mix coconut oil and sugar together for a natural exfoliator and skin softener; rub the mixture into skin, and then rinse off.
  • Use as an eye makeup remover.
  • Apply to skin during pregnancy to help prevent stretch marks.
  • Use as a natural hair conditioner to treat dry and damaged hair.
  • Use as a curly hair de-frizzer. Rub a tiny bit between your palms and scrunch into hair.
  • Use on lips as a natural chap stick.

Vegan Apple Cobbler

This recipe substitutes solid, virgin coconut oil for an equal amount of butter.

6 apples cored and sliced
1 cup apple juice
2 cups granola
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup solid coconut oil

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour or almond flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place sliced apples in a rectangular glass baking dish and pour on the apple juice. In a bowl, use a pastry blender or two forks to combine the granola, spices, coconut oil and flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle mixture over the apples and bake, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the apples are soft.

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