The Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut!Saturated fats have been villainized in  as the definitive root of heart disease and the many other degenerative ailments so common in our culture. Yet, cultures throughout the world have eaten saturated fats throughout their histories. Coconut oil has been a victim of this treatment, being composed of nearly 90% saturated fats. Has it received an unfair treatment?

The coconut hails from the Pacific Islands, where it has been a food staple for thousands of years among the islands’ inhabitants. Coconut oil is the product of pressing the meat of the coconut to extract the pure fat. Similar methods are used to produce coconut cream (a pressing of the meat, but keeping a whole product and not merely extracting the oil) and coconut milk (a pressing/pureeing of the meat with a liquid, frequently the coconut’s own water). Various cultures throughout the Pacific Islands, such as the Trobriand Islanders, derive a large percentage of the calories from the coconut, from which nearly all their fat calories derive. And yet, these people have a near absence of heart disease or other degenerative diseases as our culture.

Research into the benefits and structure of coconut oil have produced surprising results. Such benefits include: improved immune system, boosted thyroid, more efficient digestion and metabolism, and increased weightloss. Additionally, coconut oil has been used in the tropics for skin conditions, and simply as a beauty aid for skin and hair. Coconut sports a unique profile of fat molecules, unique in almost all the plant kingdom. It is from its unique molecular structure that its benefits can be attributed.

Coconut TreeOther than mothers milk, coconut oil the most dense source of lauric acid known. Lauric acid is an important fat molecule for our bodies, especially as infants, as it helps to build our immune systems. Lauric acid converts in our bodies into monolaurin, a substance known to be anti-bacterial and anti-viral. This fact alone has led coconut oil to be proscribed to individuals with severely compromised immune systems, such as HIV patients.

Coconut oil’s other unique attribute is that is composed of mostly mono-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a saturated fat, and compose about 50% of the fat found in coconut oil. MCTs vary significantly from other fats in how our bodies metabolize them, whether this be saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, or polyunsaturated fats. Commonly, other fatty acids are considered to be long-chain fatty acids, which are large molecules that take a significant amount of energy for our bodies to break down. As such, they are much more likely to be stored as fat within our bodies. MCTs on the other hand, are efficiently broken down by our liver, and almost immediately utilized for energy. Benefits attributed to coconut oil such as increased metabolism, energy, and athletic stamina can be traced back to this fact. Additionally, coconut oil is now frequently recommended for Alzheimer and dementia patients because of its potential ability to help with cognitive function – a fact that can also be traced back to how it is metabolized.

Another benefit of coconut oil is simply that it is composed primarily of saturated fats. This in beneficial when it comes to cooking, as many commonly used oils for cooking are polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats break down quickly when exposed to heat, and thus become rancid. This can occur even at seemingly light heat. Saturated fats break down much more slowly when exposed to heat, especially the more saturated they are by nature. Coconut oil’s 90% saturated nature makes it ideal for cooking, even at heats high enough for frying. Additionally, coconut oil is ideal for baking, as its highly saturated structure makes it ideal for prolonged exposure to heat. You may even want to consider using coconut oil exclusively for your cooking needs!

Liquid Coconut OilCoconut oil is again becoming a mainstream oil, and is now relatively easy to find. While you can find it numerous health food stores, it is now being offered at many more ‘conventional’ locales. When buying coconut oil, look for virgin cold-pressed unrefined oil. While other varieties can also be beneficial to your health, cold-pressed and unrefined oils are extracted at lower temperatures to maintain the integrity of the fat’s molecular structure, and unrefined to not contain chemical agents to help the extraction (which can be harmful to your health). Coconut oil is typically hard a room temperature because of its saturated nature, but can also be a clear liquid at above 70°F.

Give coconut oil a try, you’ll be wonderfully surprised, even if only for its flavor!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Protein Muffins

In my ever present search for easy recipes, I stumbled upon these delicious gluten-free muffins. But these aren’t your average muffins, filled with sugar and simple carbohydrates, creating a blood sugar spike and leaving you hungry for more. These muffins are a meal! Bake up a big batch or two (or three), and you have easy, on-the-go mini meals, filled with complex carbs, good fats, and protein to keep you full for hours! As with all recipes, the ingredients listed below function as a base. Experiment to your heart’s content!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Almond Flour
  • 1/2 cup Oat Flour
  • 1/4 cup Amaranth Flour
  • 1 cup Egg Whites/Eggs (I use 1/2 cup each, feel free to use whatever ratio your prefer or what you have on hand)
  • 7 to 8oz Greek Yogurt
  • 3 Ripe Bananas
  • 1 tbsp Coconut Oil
  • 2 tbsp Cacao (Chocolate) Powder
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon

Preparation:

  • 1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Coat silicone muffin cups or muffin pan with olive oil so as not to stick.
  • 2. In a large bowl, mash bananas into a paste. I like them a little chunky for texture.
  • 3. Mix all remaining ingredients into the bowl until a smooth consistency is reached.
  • 4. Spoon mixture into muffin cups/muffin pan.
  • 5. Bake in oven approximately 15-17 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, and eat!

Thinking about going gluten free? Or not sure what gluten is? Check out this article!

Orange-Roasted Tofu with Asparagus

Finding quick, easy, and healthy recipes that you can make over and over is an essential to optimal health. This recipe was suggested by a client of mine, and is an absolute breeze to make! Preparation time is negligible, just pop it in the oven and dig in! As with many recipes, the recipe itself can serve as a base. Always feel free to add extra ingredients that suit your own pallet.

This is an excellent recipe for the season, as asparagus is just luscious in the spring! I’ll have an article soon on all the benefits asparagus yields.

*This recipe is adapted from the EatingWell Cookbook.

Ingredients:

  • 1 14-oz package extra-firm tofu (Organic if possible, non-gmo if not)
  • 2 Tablespoons Red Miso
  • 2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Pound Asparagus, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh Basil (1-2 Tablespoon dry if not fresh)
  • 1 Teaspoon Orange Zest
  • 1/4 cup Orange Juice (freshly squeezed if possible)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
  • (Optional) 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • (Optional) 1 Teaspoon Red Chili Flakes
  • (Optional) Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • (Optional) 1 Teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil

Preparation:

  • 1. Preheat oven to 450˚F. Coat a large baking sheet or baking dish with olive oil (coconut oil optional).
  • 2. Cut Tofu into 1/2 inch cubes, then pat dry. Mix 1 tablespoon miso, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a bowl until a smooth consistency. Optionally, mix cayenne pepper and/or red chili flakes with this mixture if you prefer a much spicier variation (if you would like less heat from the spices, mix spices in step 3 instead). Toss and coat mixture over tofu. Spread tofu evenly over baking sheet/dish, and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and toss asparagus with tofu; roast for an additional 10-12 minutes, until tofu is golden brown and asparagus is tender.
  • 3. While tofu and asparagus are roasting, mix remaining tablespoon of miso, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, basil, orange zest, orange juice, and optional cayenne pepper/chili flakes in a large bowl until smooth. Remove tofu and asparagus from oven and toss with remaining mixture. Optionally, add an additional 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of coconut oil for extra flavor. Add freshly grand black pepper to taste. Let sit for a few minutes to cool. Serve, and enjoy!

This recipe makes an excellent main dish, so feel free to serve with whatever you may like as a side – rice, quinoa, extra vegetables – eat it alone, or even double the recipe! Makes 3 servings.

Sunflower Cake: Gluten Free, Grain Free, and Delicious!

This is quite an amazing recipe; it simply stunned me to have a great dessert that is not only gluten-free, but has no grains whatsoever! I first experimented with this recipe for a small get-together, and it was a huge hit! Not only is it loaded with nutrition from all the wonderful ingredients (especially those sunflower seeds!), but it’s quick and very easy to make. I’m not much of a baker, but with this recipe’s flavor and ease, it’s now been added to my weekly repertoire.

Amazing Sunflower Cake!

Below is the basic recipe for the cake. The basic recipe serves as a base that can easily be used for other recipes, or that can easily be varied. Try cutting some of the maple syrup or honey, or even utilizing one or two bananas instead, to reduce the sugar and create more of a ‘bread’ for more everyday use. Consider adding a can of pureed pumpkin (or fresh if it’s the season) and an extra egg to create Pumpkin Sunflower Cake. If you’re going dairy free, you can even use all coconut oil instead of butter! There are numerous possibilities that are waiting to be found with this recipe!

*This recipe is adapted from the Internal Bliss GAPS Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • Sunflower Cake2 1/2 cups soaked Sunflower Seeds (soak at least 4 hours, better if overnight, strain seeds but allow them to be damp)
  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Butter (or all Coconut Oil)
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons Honey
  • 3 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
  • 1.5 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 2 Teaspoons Nutmeg
  • 2 Teaspoons ground Ginger

Preparation:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350˚F.
  2. In a blender or food processor, grind sunflower seeds in batches until they form a paste.
  3. In a mixing bowl or in blender/food processor, mix all ingredients until well mixed.
  4. Grease a 9 inch baking dish or cake pan with coconut oil, and pour in mixture.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Let cool, cut, and serve!

This cake is great warm, room temperature, or cold! Serve with fresh fruit, coconut cream, ice cream, or alone! Makes 12-16 servings.

Sunflower Cake

Food Spotlight: Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower SeedsSunflower seeds are the reproductive product of the beautiful sunflower. The sunflower itself has been utilized by Native Americans as food and for its health benefits for thousands of years. The seeds weren’t the only part of the sunflower utilized; the flower, stem, and roots were frequently used as an herbal tea and also ground and used as a pigment for dye. It was first cultivated for it seeds between 3000-2000 BC in modern day northern and central Mexico, and slightly later along the east coast of North America. The seed was prized for its high concentration of oil by such cultures as the Aztecs, and continues to be prized for this reason today. Sunflower seeds grow with a shell that is gray-green or black. If the seeds are raw, they can also be sprouted for additional health benefits.

Since seeds hold the energy a plant requires to reproduce itself, sunflower seeds are an abundant source of nutrition. The seeds are especially rich in Vitamin E, the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant required in the body. Just one ounce of sunflower seeds can contain 50% or more of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin E! Sunflower seeds are also quite high in an array of B-Vitamins, especially B1 (Thiamin) and B6, both important for generating energy in the body. Additionally, the seeds are rich in essential minerals, especially manganese, magnesium, copper, and selenium. One ounce of sunflower seeds contains 165 calories, of which 120 come from fat – the fat contained in sunflower seeds is mostly polyunsaturated – 6 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of fiber.

Sunflower Seed NutrientsSince sunflower seeds are one of the most cultivated seed crops in the world, they are available in most every food store. They are typically available hulled (with their shell removed), but can also be found with their shell intact, and also available either roasted or raw. Buying them in their raw form is recommended, as the roasting process involves high levels of heat that can damage the fragile polyunsaturated oils the seeds contain. Because of their fragile oils, store sunflower seeds in a cool, dark place for preservation – even consider storing them in a refrigerator! Like all seeds, sunflower seeds contain Sunflower Seeds!antinutrients and digestive inhibitors that can burden your digestion when eaten in large amounts. So, while it’s perfectly fine to eat a handful here and there, consider soaking them at least 4 hours in water when eating larger amounts. Soaking seeds begins the sprouting process a seed would undergo when beginning its transition to a full plant, thus eliminating many of the digestive inhibitors (making them easier to assimilate when eating) and unlocks many of the nutrients contained within.

One of the many creative uses of sunflower seeds it utilizing or substituting them for flours in baked goods. Simply grind the seeds (soaking them before-hand is recommended), and use them in an equal ratio to flour in whatever baked good you wish to add them! This will impart an extra nutritional kick, as well as a delicious nutty flavor.