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Why all the fuss about Organic Coconut Oil?

Organic Coconut Oil is flying off the shelves - literally. Spinning instructor Joanne Robinson explains why she loves it so much. It is difficult to know where to begin when discussing organic coconut oil; it seems to be cropping up here, there and everywhere in this ever-increasingly health conscious world. Gone are the days when it was only to be found in the mysterious (and let's face it, slightly intimidating) world of organic health food stores; I even found it in my local supermarket last week. This is when living in a town full of hot yoga studios really has its benefits: the local shops feed the needs of the masses, and previously unheard of items are staring out at me between the olive and vegetable oils.

Why is Organic Coconut Oil so popular?

So what is it about organic coconut oil that has it flying off the shelves? (Quite literally, might I add; the last two times I had hoped to buy some, both stores I went to had been out of stock.) Well, other than its insanely beautiful smell and texture (we'll get on to that a bit later), it is actually pretty damn good for your most important asset, your heart. Coconut oil gives the HDL cholesterol (aka the "good" cholesterol) a boost, and the benefits of high good cholesterol include a lesser risk of heart disease or a heart attack. It is also a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT), or medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA), differentiating it from common vegetable and seed oils which are long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), also known as long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). MCTs are much smaller than LCTs, meaning the body is able to digest, absorb and use them immediately for energy. LCTs on the other hand, due to being larger and therefore undergoing a longer digestion and absorption process, are not used immediately and are stored in the body, which over time and without a consistent diet and fitness plan, can be stored as fat. And that's just two of the benefits of organic coconut oil. There’s more...

Bad saturated fats

One thing I constantly hear women talking about is this whole low fat, low calorie diet nonsense. For goodness knows how long we have been led to believe that saturated fats are bad for our health, resulting in problems such as obesity and high cholesterol. However, saturated fats are not all one and the same. These are those which are artificially created through hydrogenation, meaning the fats (usually natural vegetable and seed oils) have hydrogen atoms added to them whilst being heated, and therefore being able to sit on the supermarket shelves for a much much longer period of time. And we all know that anything that doesn't come from the fruit and veg or produce section of the supermarket is a no-no when it comes to a healthy, clean lifestyle. These saturated fats are the ones we should steer clear of.

Good saturated fats

Then there are the good saturated fats, such as (you guessed it) organic coconut oil. The saturated fat in coconut oil is completely natural; nothing has been added to it, it hasn’t been heated, and it won't change state at room temperature. What you see is what you get. In tropical communities where coconuts aren't an exotic item or best-kept health secret, and have been a staple part of the diet for thousands of years, the people are generally healthy and obesity is rarely a problem. There's a lot to be said for the natural saturated fats it seems. But I know what you're thinking – what about olive oil, isn't that a healthy fat? Over the years, and largely in part thanks to the media, we have come to believe that the winning fat is olive oil. And yes, in many ways, it does have a ton of benefits, including being heart healthy and a great source of Omega oils, which are essential to a healthy nervous system.

The problem with olive oil

What is not commonly shared is that when olive oil is heated, all of its good qualities are removed through the heating process. Now I'm not here to attack olive oil, I do love it on a salad, but that's really where it should stay - fresh and unheated as a dressing. When it is heated above its smoking point, its nutritional properties (and also its flavour) start to break down, it becomes oxidised and therefore stripped of its goodness (yes, even the precious vitamin E is reduced). There's a reason why it's favoured in Mediterranean countries as a heart- healthy diet essential, but as a dressing and dressing alone. Because organic coconut oil is almost a completely saturated fat, it can stand the heat in the kitchen, making it a much better alternative for a healthy body.

How to use organic coconut oil

When it comes to how to use organic coconut oil, it's a long list. My personal favourite is to make granola by simply mixing nuts and seeds with ground almonds, honey and a few spoons of organic coconut oil. And I say "simply" because it really is oh so easy to make, and far too easy to eat. Also, further to the point above regarding the heating process of olive oil versus organic coconut oil, try using coconut oil for everything you would have ordinarily used olive, vegetable or sunflower oil for. Granted, I was originally sceptical about cooking meat or eggs with coconut oil, but there's no difference. Really. If anything, the subtle hint of coconut you get every now and then really complements the savoury-ness of the protein. Finally, reward yourself for your super healthy, clean diet by using the organic coconut oil as an indulgent moisturiser (body, face and scalp!). Just remember that the shiny oily look has never really caught on, so use it sparingly.
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