Coconut: Not Just for Mounds Bars
I can't say when my first taste of coconut was or even if I liked it the first few times around. I vaguely remember as a child being splattered with coconut scented sunblock before going outside and I suspect that same experience permanently ruined coconut for other people. However, on a trip to Colombia two summers ago, I purchased a coconut snack from the window of my car from a woman selling them on the side of the road. In fact, once I slowed the car they looked so good I bought a few of them. Not being able to ask in English what exactly was in them, I went by taste and sight and knew the snack had at least coconut, macadamia nuts and butter. The other ingredient was probably sugar but seeing as how there was no nutrition label on the uncovered platter they were sitting on, I resorted to just shutting up and enjoying them.
From that moment, I have been steadily eating coconut products back in the States and love the texture, taste, versatility and health benefits of coconut products. My primary uses for coconut involve coconut oils, shredded coconut and coconut milk. I haven't tried much of the coconut yogurt, hard to give up the Greek style! I'll list three easy substitutes or additions for coconut products into your life that I hope will become staples in your kitchen.
Before I continue I must address the saturated fat issue associated with coconut products. If we look at the label below, we can see that coconut oil is primarily saturated fat with the remaining being polyunsaturated.
That's bad right? Doesn't saturated fat increases cholesterol levels? Pulling from a few different resources, I have learned over the years that no, saturated fat doesn't magically raise cholesterol and in fact, cholesterol is not “bad”, nor does it rely on fat intake to be produced. Even writing this now tells me an article on cholesterol in our diets should be written so I will try to be brief. I prefer cooking with coconut oil for several reasons including:
A. Coconut oil has a higher smoke (burn) temperature than extra virgin olive oil . This means less oxidation of the fat in the oil which means less oxidative stress on your body. Refined oils have higher smoke points but this comes at the cost of having the oil either perfumed or chemically purified so you cannot smell how bad it is from the general refinement process.
B. Saturated fat from coconut has a similar effect as above in your body in that it is less prone to oxidation while floating around in your blood stream. The oxidation of the fat in your bloodstream is one of the causes of atherosclerosis and can cause the building up of plaque in
arteries. Your body would prefer to have plaque build up than have the oxidized fat damage the arterial cell wall. Saturated fat is more stable and is not the root cause of heart disease.
C. It tastes great and is versatile. There hasn't been much I've not put coconut oil on, aside from cold salads because it is solid at room temperature. I use it in place of or alongside pastured butter and olive oil
On to the uses for coconut products!!
As stated above, you can use coconut oil to cook in any manner you would olive oil, canola oil or butter. This oil goes great with eggs, sauteing vegetables, browning meat, stirring into rice or potatoes or just for reheating leftovers with in a frying pan. It does have a subtle, buttery/coconut flavor (shocker, right?) but I don't feel it is strong enough to detract from any style of food you are making. There is also a growing trend of people melting a little coconut oil into their tea or coffee for the fat burning properties of the Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT's). MCT's are absorbed quickly in your bloodstream, similar to carbohydrates and do not need to be packaged in the small intestine to transfer to the liver. The triglycerides in this fat are also quickly converted into ketone bodies which shift the metabolism to a more “fat-burning” state. Normally this takes time to adapt to but MCT can artificially shift this metabolism which has sparked the interest of dieters and nutrition geeks alike.
While not as high in MCT's as coconut oil and containing a few carbohydrates, shredded coconut makes a great and easy addition to many foods you already eat. Try buying the unsweetened kind at your grocery store, if the generic big box supermarket doesn't carry it I am sure a co-op or Whole Foods will. I originally experimented with shredded coconut by adding it to my Greek Yogurt and oatmeal. From there I made trail mixes with nuts, berries and seeds. Lastly, I began incorporating shredded coconut into my regular meals by adding a palmful right at the end of cooking in a pan so they would toast slightly. This worked better with starches like squash, sweet potatoes and rice and less so with cabbage and kale. A one ounce serving has 18g fat and 7g of carbohydrates but you would be surprised at how far one ounce goes because shredded coconut is so light.
I already posted a recipe including coconut milk in the Slow Cooked Muscle post and stick with my suggestion for using it as a worthy substitute for many traditional cooking liquids. Whether you are slow cooking something in a crock-pot, thickening a soup or adding some moisture to a quick pan-fry, coconut milk adds richness, creamy texture and a subtle nutty flavor. A half cup is 18 grams of fat, 4 grams or carbohydrates and 4 grams of protein. One tablespoon of olive oil has about 14grams of fat so this is a good substitution for simmering some veggies in rather than frying in oil, or just do a little of each!
These suggestions are great jumping-off points for incorporating coconut products into your diet. I will post some additional recipes including coconut products in the future but try these suggestions next time your at the store or in the kitchen.