Florida Times Union
Finding yourself in an aisle labeled "Cooking Oils" can be somewhat daunting. But, like most casual shoppers, you save time and avoid any uncertainty by sticking to the most commonly used vegetable oils, like olive oil and canola oil.
Lately, however, something else has come into the spotlight. Never before would you have considered buying a product so blatantly recognized as a saturated fat, but it seems to be all the rage these days.
It's coconut oil, and everybody is cooking with it.
"Saturated fats have always gotten a bad rep," said
Consuming these unhealthy fats can lead to numerous health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity.
So why is coconut oil suddenly jumping off grocery store shelves and showing up in recipes for everything from pan-fried tilapia to almond pound cake?
Recent research has come out in defense of coconut oil, proving that it is not as unhealthy as previously believed. In fact, many dietitians today recommend using coconut oil in place of almost all other oils.
"Not all oils and fats are created equal," said Mihaela Telecan, a registered dietitian and the owner of Healing with Foods in
Although coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is a naturally rich source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are easy to digest and are quickly absorbed to be used for energy instead of being stored as fat.
Vegetable oils, on the other hand, are made up of long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), which take longer to be digested and are not readily available as an energy source, so, instead, are stored as fat.
Coconut oil's high smoke point is yet another reason to consider making the switch. The smoke point is the temperature at which oil starts to smoke and it is very important to consider when deciding which oils to cook with.
Oils such as extra virgin olive oil and flax oil have low smoke points and should not be used when cooking at high temperatures. Doing so causes a change in the oil's chemical structure, depleting it of many beneficial qualities, releasing toxic fumes into the air and creating harmful free radicals.
For high temperature cooking, such as frying, baking and sauting, coconut oil, as well as canola oil and sunflower oil, are your best options.
Coconut oil does, however, impart a mild coconut flavor to the food it is cooked with and may be an acquired taste for some.
"No doubt about it, you have to like that if you're cooking with it," Levy said.
Those who don't care for the flavor say that using coconut oil is like slathering lotion on your food.
But if you like coconut, coconut oil will be a welcome addition to many dishes. The natural sweetness of the oil also makes it a perfect substitute for butter when baking.
In the end, whichever oil you choose should suit your own personal tastes and needs. Cooking oils are a fantastic and easy way to make sure that you are getting all the healthy fats that your body needs.
"Don't be afraid of fat," Telecan said.
Fats should account for 20 percent to 30 percent of your total calorie intake, and they are important to have in your diet for a number of reasons: Fats help the body absorb vitamins, steadies the metabolism and leaves you feeling more energized and full, just to name a few.
Even so, be aware that oils are still pure fat and high in calories. That healthy dressing you are drizzling over those leafy greens can quickly become the culprit of tight pants and extra pounds on the scale.COOKING OIL PRIMERCOCONUT OIL What is it: Extracted from the meat of fresh, mature coconuts and has a distinct, sweet flavor. Comes in liquid and solid form.Health benefits: Contains lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid, and has been shown to increase good cholesterol in the blood, improve blood pressure and boost brain function. Coconut oil is also known to have antimicrobial properties.How to use: Use liquid coconut oil as you would use olive or vegetable oil (remember, though, that it will impart a sweet, coconut flavor to what you are cooking). It is especially great for high temperature cooking such as sauting, baking and frying because of its high smoke point. Roast
2 tablespoons coconut oil 3 onions, diced 2 cups farro (grains), soaked and drained 2 cups vegetable stock Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoon Parmesan cheese 4 to 5 cloves of roasted garlic Vegetables such as mushrooms, squash, tomatoes, broccoli, asparague, etc.
Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, add onions and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add farro, stir and toast kernels for a few more minutes.
Add vegetable stock and simmer until cooked through and most of the liquid is absorbed.
In a saut pan, add farro, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and roasted garlic. Add a small amount of vegetable stock. When heated thoroughly, turn off heat and add cheese.
Top with other vegetables such as sauted mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes and fresh herbs.GINGER BROILED SALMON
1 tablespoon coconut oil 1/4 cup water 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger 1 tablespoon umeboshi plum vinegar 2- to 4- ounce wild salmon filets
Make marinade by combining oil, water, ginger and vinegar.
Place fish in a shallow baking dish, cover with marinade and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Broil fish skin side down for 6 to 8 minutes.
Baste with remaining marinade once or twice while broiling.
Use any remaining marinade as a sauce and serve.
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