Why are the food vegans and Paleo dieters obsessed with coconut oil?

There I was, cruising one of my favorite health food stores, stocking up on my normal items when a particularly chipper store associate pointed to a vast display of goopy white stuff in glass jars.

“Oh la la! A brand new shipment of coconut oil!” She was practically glowing with excitement.

I didn’t react with as much gusto as she expected, and she then talked on and on about how this was the new miracle food, and I should use it to bake with, did I bake? And 10 minutes later I had a jar of it and three small bottles of naturally colored sugar for decorating that year’s Christmas cookies. I have since used none of my purchases.

I’m a creature of habit, a girl born with a stick of butter in one hand and a bottle of EVOO in the other. So I wondered, why should I be using coconut oil?

First up, instead of fat being a bad word, it’s a good word here in Coconut Oil-Land (where there are also lots of umbrella topped drinks. We like it here!). Turns out that about 50 percent of the fat in this oil is in the form of lauric acid, which your body converts to monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-protozoa properties. Translation–it’s good for balancing out your gut. It is also a rich source of medium-chain fatty acids which makes it different from most seed and vegetable oils which are made up of long chain fatty acids (which are very difficult for your body to break down and are stored as fat).

Secondly, coconut oil is a stable saturated fat to cook with. “Heat doesn’t damage it very easily,” says Diane Sanfilippo, certified nutrition consultant, author of “Practical Paleo” and a coconut oil connoisseur. “That’s the problem with people eating more fats in their diet- damaged fats…this is a stable fat to cook with and you won’t damage it in the process.”

So try using coconut oil in place of olive oil and vegetable oil, especially when cooking up bitter greens such as kale, as it softens the greens and adds a hint of sweetness.

Finally, here is one unique thing I wish I had known about my poor neglected jar of coconut oil: slather it on your skin. It’s a fantastic moisturizer and you don’t have to worry about anything added or unnatural, something I wish I had known after my last marathon and all of the chafing that goes along with it.

Interested in learning more? Check out Balanced Bites for some great information on paleo cooking, or simply ask questions at your favorite local health food store (for me, that’s Mother Earth Natural Foods). And don’t forget when you do get that big jar, FN has some delicious homemade treat recipes.