Perspectives on Food Fads – Coconut Oil

Last week, the world of healthy eating was rocked by an article claiming that refined coconut oil was no better than the “terrible” saturated fats that it was meant to replace.

At Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) we are always talking about the perils of food fads and when this article broke, one of our chef instructors, Elliott Prag remarked “This isn't particularly surprising news. Vilification of individual macronutrients are prone to trends just like everything else in media. Carbs are finally emerging from the dungeon, and will be now be replaced by coconut oil and other saturated fats, no doubt”. The dungeon.

In the food world, it is an unfortunate destination for good foods that get a bad name. Consider eggs, which not so long ago were considered bad for overall health. As a 40-year-old health-supportive culinary school, NGI has seen a lot of food fads, along with ever changing research on macronutrients. We have studied them all but remained focused on instructing students on our founder, Dr. Annmarie Colbin’s food philosophy which focuses on whole foods that are fresh, organic, seasonal, traditional and minimally processed. This approach has enabled many individuals to avoid the confusion plaguing modern food preparation and consumption. Is coconut oil the new villain of the food world?  More research is required but it certainly should not be vilified.

Here at NGI we use an array of different oils for food preparation including organic, cold pressed olive oil, organic, cold pressed sesame oil, organic pasture-fed butter, and, for certain recipes, avocado oil and walnut oil. We choose these fats because they are close to their natural form and are minimally processed. We will continue to use organic refined and unrefined coconut oil as we always do: in moderation. To help navigate the ever-changing world of food, here are some perspectives that help us stay focused:

  • Nature has a way of delivering vital nutrients in its own unique way. When you prepare and consume a food in its natural form (or close to it) you are benefiting from the full value of that food
  • Moderation is the key to a balanced, healthful diet. Use any refined product sparingly
  • The more processed or refined the ingredient, the greater the likelihood that the original health benefit of that food has been diminished or eliminated
  • Prepare and consume food that is whole, in season, local, fresh, and organic. Make sure ingredients (and the final plates) are balanced and delicious. Remember to honor traditions: they are not just familiar rituals, they transmit information from the past necessary to lead a healthful present.

It is best not to be drawn into food fads, trends, or “miracles”. Try not to vilify or elevate any one aspect of diet or nutrition, and keep an eye on the overall bigger picture. Additional thoughts by NGI Chef Instructor and MS Nutrition ‘18 (MUIH, candidate), Celine Beitchman:

  • MCTs, or Medium Chain Triglycerides, are often considered a healthy component in coconut oil. In general, the length of a chain of fat can be described as short, medium, long, or very long. Among them, medium chains, found in higher amounts in coconut oil, require fewer body resources to be digested and absorbed.  Unlike other saturated fats, MCTs may be used more quickly by the body as sources of immediate energy. This may have thermogenic effects, help increase our metabolism, and minimize fat storage.
  • Some saturated fats, such as good quality coconut oil – lightly or minimally processed – can be part of a balanced diet. With a high smoke point, neutral or coconut flavor as desired, and characteristics that mimic butter and animal shortening, we use it at NGI for high-temperature cooking and in baking when we want to veganize a recipe without losing out on texture and taste.


This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

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