Co­conut comes out of its shell

Its rep­u­ta­tion for boost­ing health is grow­ing

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - SU­SAN SCHWARTZ

Co­conut oil, a sat­u­rated fat vil­i­fied not so long ago as a cul­prit in clogged ar­ter­ies and heart dis­ease, ap­pears to have un­der­gone a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Pro­po­nents say co­conut oil is ben­e­fi­cial for health — that it does ev­ery­thing from im­prove the im­mune sys­tem and help pre­vent os­teo­poro­sis to de­crease in­flam­ma­tion, which might be a ma­jor fac­tor in the de­vel­op­ment of dis­ease, as Pat Crocker ob­serves in the first chap­ter of Co­conut 24 /7 (HarperColl­ins, 2013), a man­i­festo of sorts fea­tur­ing more than 100 recipes.

“For a long time, the word from the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity was that con­sump­tion of sat­u­rated fats was as­so­ci­ated with coro­nary artery dis­ease,” said Luis Agel­lon, a pro­fes­sor in the School of Di­etet­ics and Hu­man Nu­tri­tion at McGill Univer­sity. “But it turns out that not all sat­u­rated fats are bad for us.”

Co­conut oil im­parts a sub­tle, nutty flavour to foods, in­clud­ing stir fries and baked goods.

And be­cause, like other sat­u­rated fats, co­conut oil is solid at room tem­per­a­ture, it’s an op­tion for ve­g­ans, who don’t con­sume but­ter.

In the decade that Ecol­legey, an or­ganic gro­cery store in Mon­treal has been open, “We have al­ways sold a lot of co­conut oil,” coowner Jeff Asch said.

And in the past few years, he said, co­conut wa­ter, the clear liq­uid found in­side young co­conuts, has be­come pop­u­lar. It is pro­moted, in part, as a way to re­store elec­trolytes af­ter in­tense ex­er­cise. With high con­cen­tra­tions of elec­trolytes, co­conut wa­ter “re­hy­drates you quickly,” he said.

Joe Sch­warcz, di­rec­tor of the McGill Of­fice for Sci­ence and So­ci­ety and a Mon­treal Gazette colum­nist, is skep­ti­cal.

“Much of the buzz about co­conut wa­ter is cre­ated by in­ge­nious mar­ket­ing,” he ob­served in a ra­dio ed­i­to­rial.

Drink it if you like the taste and can jus­tify the cost, he ad­vises, but not for any per­ceived health ben­e­fit. Co­conut wa­ter has a good dose of potas­sium, but he says, for most people, wa­ter is an ad­e­quate re­hy­drat­ing so­lu­tion.

Al­though books have been pub­lished about co­conut and its ben­e­fits, “they fell short on recipes,” Crocker said.

Crocker, who lives in south­ern On­tario, be­lieves the In­ter­net is one rea­son that word about co­conut oil and its ben­e­fits has spread far and wide.

“I live in a lit­tle vil­lage,” she said. “While I was do­ing the work on this book, my hus­band went to town to get co­conut oil. The guy in the store said he had sold eight cases in a week … in our lit­tle town. I couldn’t be­lieve it.”

The fat mol­e­cules mak­ing up co­conut oil are much shorter than those in palm oil or an­i­mal fat. With only six to 12 car­bons, fewer than the 18 found in most an­i­mal fats, these medium-chain fatty acids “may not be as dam­ag­ing as once thought,” Sch­warcz ob­served in a 2012 col­umn.

They do raise lev­els of low­den­sity, or “bad” choles­terol, he wrote, but also raise lev­els of high­den­sity, or “good” choles­terol as well “and can re­sult in a more favourable ra­tio of good to bad.”

And medium-chain fatty acids tend to be ab­sorbed quickly through the lin­ing of the stomach and go di­rectly into the liver, where they are con­verted into en­ergy and burned rather than stored as fat or de­posited in the ar­ter­ies the way the long-chain fatty acids of an­i­mal fats are, Crocker writes.

Agel­lon is not con­vinced there are ab­so­lute ben­e­fits to con­sum­ing co­conut oil.

Merely in­creas­ing one’s con­sump­tion of any oil or any fat means in­creas­ing to­tal caloric in­take, he cau­tioned.

“If you change noth­ing else in your diet, you will get fat­ter. The mes­sage is that if you mod­ify your diet and do noth­ing but add fat, you will have more en­ergy go­ing in and it ends up be­ing stored.”

A bet­ter mes­sage, Agel­lon said, is to de­crease one’s in­take of all fats — sat­u­rated and un­sat­u­rated.

“We get enough in the pro­cessed foods we eat. Bet­ter to have a well-bal­anced diet with di­verse and high-qual­ity nu­tri­ents.”

In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté onion for 5 min­utes.

Add gar­lic and egg­plant and cook, stir­ring fre­quently, for 3 min­utes or un­til egg­plant be­gins to turn golden brown.

Add toma­toes and cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, for 15 min­utes or un­til egg­plant is soft, the liq­uid from the toma­toes has been re­duced and the mix­ture has thick­ened.

Stir in gre­mo­lata and olives (if us­ing) and heat through.

Co­conut Gre­mo­lata

Makes 1 cup (250 mL) Gre­mo­lata is a savoury mix­ture of pars­ley and gar­lic that works well as a gar­nish for ev­ery­thing from meats to soup and veg­etable dishes: Crocker has cre­ated a sweeter ver­sion by re­plac­ing the gar­lic with co­conut.

Use gar­lic if you’d like a savoury gre­mo­lata. 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh pars­ley 1/4 cup (60 mL) toasted sliv­ered al­monds, chopped coarsely 1/4 cup (60 mL) toasted co­conut flakes, fresh or dried

1 tsp (5 mL) sea salt

In a bowl, com­bine the in­gre­di­ents and toss to mix well.

Store in an air­tight container in the re­frig­er­a­tor for up to two weeks or freeze for up to a month.

Cit­rus Cab­bage Salad with Or­ange Co­conut


Makes 6 serv­ings A new twist on the clas­sic Wal­dorf salad.

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups (250-375 mL)

A sub­tle, creamy sauce that works well with raw and cooked fruits and veg­eta­bles. Be­cause the oil in tahini, a paste made from ground se­same seeds, some­times floats to the top of the jar, stir it well with a fork be­fore adding it to the blen­der. 1 tbsp (15 mL) grated or­ange rind

Juice of 1 or­ange

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 banana, cut into chunks 1 5.4-ounce (155 g) can co­conut cream 3 tbsp (45 mL) melted co­conut oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) tahini

In a blen­der, com­bine all in­gre­di­ents and blend for 30 sec­onds or un­til creamy. Use im­me­di­ately or cover and re­frig­er­ate for up to 6 days. Bring to room tem­per­a­ture and stir well be­fore us­ing.

Co­conut Hand Lo­tion

Makes enough for about 24 ap­pli­ca­tions

This lo­tion starts out thin and sets over time at room tem­per­a­ture, al­though it can be used right away. An ap­pli­ca­tion is about half a tea­spoon (2.5 mL). 3 tbsp (45 mL) soft­ened co­conut oil 1 tbsp (15 mL) al­mond oil

2 tsp (10 mL) glyc­er­ine

In a bowl, whisk to­gether co­conut oil and al­mond oil.

Add glyc­er­ine and whisk for sev­eral min­utes or un­til well blended.

Trans­fer to a jar with a ca­pac­ity of 1/3 cup (80 mL) as well as a lid, cap, la­bel and store in a cool place.

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