Coconut

ChiloquinNews article 1/30/2012

This damp weather is certainly conducive to lots of reading and I have been immersing myself in coconut this week. It all came about as usual, from a link that I followed on the internet which led me to a chat group and there finding a link to a book called ‘Coconut Oil Miracle’ by Bruce Fife.

 

I very clearly remember the big hubbub about saturated fats back in the 80’s, and the warning to give up butter and palm oils in favor of margarine and vegetable oils made from soy, corn, canola etc. I never did it because I find butter to be so much more tasty, and I felt quite vindicated a few years ago when the news began to leak out that perhaps butter is good for you and vegetable oils not. But I did use those oils for cooking.

 

All fats are composed of three fatty acid molecules and glycerol molecule, which together make up a ‘triglyceride’. The fatty acids are made up of a long, medium or short chain of carbon atoms each of which can have two hydrogen atoms attached. If all the carbons do have 2 hydrogens, then the fatty acid is ‘saturated’. If not then it is unsaturated and can be made saturated by a process known as hydrogenation. And why bother? It’s a texture thing. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature; unsaturated fats (oils) are not. No one wants margarine that is liquid at room temperature. So the question is… why ever would you think that a vegetable oil that has been artificially saturated to make it solid would be any better for you than a naturally occurring saturated fat? They’re not. In fact they are much worse for you, because the hydrogenation process introduces some structural changes (known as trans fats) that are quite deadly.

Growing up in Australia we ate lots of desserts and many of my favorites used an ingredient called copha. When I arrived in the US I searched high and low for copha – never found it. Just recently I discovered that ‘Copha’ was simply the brand name for the coconut oil sold there. Not that it would have done me much good to know that sooner. With the saturated fats scare, coconut oil disappeared off the shelves and out of processed foods. What was not made clear at the time, or perhaps what was not even considered, is that saturated fats are not all the same. The number of carbon atoms in their fatty acids determines the extent to which they affect blood cholesterol levels. Coconut oil is composed mostly of “medium chain fatty acids.” Having only 6 to 12 carbons in their structure, these fats may not be as damaging as once thought. While they do raise LDL (bad) they also raise HDL (good), and can result in a more favorable ratio of good to bad. Throughout the tropical world, coconut oil has provided the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people for generations, and research has shown that it was not until these communities abandoned their traditional diet for a Western diet high in hydrogenated vegetable oils, that obesity and heart disease became known to them.

Coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) is one of the most prolific and widespread trees in the world. It grows in all tropical regions. It produces fruit year round and each palm yields 100+ coconuts a year, with the coconuts taking about 14 months to fully mature. A young coconut (less than 6 months old) is completely filled with a jelly-like substance that can be eaten with a spoon. It is used to nourish newborn babies. At about 6 months, the coconut meat begins to form and the liquid filling the center (coconut water) begins to decrease. By 14 months, there will be a thick hard layer of meat and very little water with both the meat and the water becoming less sweet with age. Fresh coconut meat is used to make shredded coconut, coconut milk and virgin coconut oil. Sun dried coconut meat, known as copra, is used to make oil. Other products include coconut sugar, wine, vinegar and cream. Coconut, in one form or another is used as food, medicine, a protective and a healing lotion, and in cosmetics.

 

Since there are no coconut palms likely to grow in Chiloquin, even with global warming, why is this of interest to us? I think most of us are interested in our health, and there are many nutrients that are not soluble in water, but are soluble in oil. That means, if you eliminate fats from your diet you will not absorb these nutrients and they are important  nutrients. Things like vitamins A, D, E and K. Not much use taking a supplement if you drink it down with non-fat milk! It’s even possible that the Calcium added to low-fat milk can’t be easily absorbed without a little extra fat. Now you could use olive oil and butter for everything, but coconut oil makes quite a tasty change. Virgin coconut oil has a lovely coconut flavor that goes really well in desserts (think pie crust and Almond Joy). The more highly refined coconut oils have no flavor and make a good substitute for vegetable cooking oils. Try some – you just might feel better for it.

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