By Henry Schliff
The use of coconut oil as food dates back as far as 4,000 years ago in India. It is a staple in the cooking of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Only recently has gained favor in the West and has its nutritional and health value been scientifically investigated. Some of the remarkable findings of that research are listed below:
Health benefits of coconut oil
- Heart Health: Coconut oil contains no cholesterol and, even though it is a saturated fat it is made up of medium-chain fatty acids which metabolize quickly in the liver. During this process they covert into 50% lauric acid, a substance that promotes production of high-density lipoproteins (HDL – good cholesterol).
- Weight Loss: Because coconut oil metabolizes quickly in the liver most of the calories it contains are used to produce energy and are not used to store fat. As a result of this increased metabolism, daily dietary use of coconut oil has been shown in scientific studies to promote weight loss and it is especially effective in reducing abdominal fat which has been implicated as a precursor of many degenerative diseases.
- Brain Health: Coconut Oil Increases Cognitive Brain Function. During the process of digestion the body converts the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil into keytones which are sent directly into the bloodstream from the liver and then to the brain as a source of energy. As a result, coconut oil is being investigated as an alternative energy source for the brain in the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Immune System: The lauric acid in coconut oil is the same compound that is found in mothers milk which helps to protect the newborn from infections. It is used by the body to produce monolaurin, a natural antibiotic.
- Skin and hair health: coconut oil contains high amounts of Vitamin E and lauric acid which help to nourish and moisturize the skin, scalp, and hair. It is very useful as a natural skin lotion and protects against the sun’s ultraviolent rays. It helps keep the hair strong, prevent dandruff and lice, protects against premature baldness and excessive hair loss.
- Digestive health: The medium chain triglycerides in coconut are easily broken down and put less stress on the body than the longer chain triglycerides found in most other fats. Coconut oil also helps the body to absorb other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Its antimicrobial properties protect against the growth of harmful bacteria in the colon, help to eliminate parasites, and to fight fungal infections such as candidiasis. Its daily use has been found to be effective in relieving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
Cooking with coconut oil
Virgin organic coconut oil can be used in any recipe as a substitute for butter or any other cooking oil. It imparts a mild coconut flavor which is agreeable with most foods but is especially delicious with all kinds of seafood.
It is highly stable when stored at room temperature over a long period of time. It is extremely important to buy organic coconut oil that has not be treated with chemicals or hydrogenated in order to obtain the health benefits listed above. Some organic companies make a refined coconut oil employing a steam process that uses no chemicals, is flavorless, and is good for frying at higher temperatures or when a coconut flavor is not desired.
Organic refined coconut oil is an excellent replacement for vegetable shortening in any recipe. It does not contain any harmful trans-fats which can lead to high cholesterol and greater risk of heart disease, and still has many of the same benefits of virgin coconut oil.
Heart Healthy Biscuits
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat (or white-whole wheat) flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. organic refined coconut oil
2 Tbs. sour cream
¾ cup buttermilk
In a large bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients. Add the coconut oil and sour cream. Using your fingers work the coconut oil and sour cream into the flour mixture until is reduced to small flakes. Add the buttermilk and using your fingers mix it into the dough until it comes together and is slightly sticky. Knead the dough in the bowl a few times. Shape the dough into a disk. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle about 1 inch thick. Cut the dough into rounds using a 2½ inch cookie cutter. Place the biscuits side by side on an ungreased sheet pan. Reroll the scraps. Cut out more biscuits and add them to the pan. Bake at 425 for 12-14 minutes.
Henry Schliff has been the chef of a French, Italian, and Mexican restaurant and was most recently the owner of the Orange Blossom Bakery in Buxton. He is the author of two cookbooks