Now Reading
A Gift From the Tropics



— July 15, 2018

A Gift From the Tropics

  • Coconut oil is fast becoming a kitchen—and beauty—staple.

At one time, coconuts were a vacation getaway treat: Filled with a beverage and a cocktail umbrella, and served on a beach. Today coconut—in particular the oil extracted from the white, fleshy interior—is all the rage. A lot of the excitement over coconut oil centers on health benefits that are currently the subject of scientific research. “It protects against infectious illnesses due to antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties,” says Bruce Fife, ND, author of The Coconut Oil Miracle (Avery). “It can help balance blood sugar, and improve insulin secretion and sensitivity.” Scientists have also found that coconut oil may aid in weight loss and protect the liver.

Back Into the Kitchen Coconut oil’s revival has followed decades of banishment from pantries because of a misunderstanding about the relationship between fats and health. It was used alongside other cooking oils until the mid-1980s, when all saturated fats were declared a threat

Coconut water, the liquid found in the center of young coconuts, has long been prized in the tropics for the cooling, revitalizing properties that have made it a hit here in the US. “It has all of the same electrolytes that are found naturally in our blood in approximately the same proportions,” says Bruce Fife. He explains that coconut water may also help fight inflammation and improve kidney function and digestion, among other benefits.

to cardiovascular health by promoting blockages within coronary arteries. “By 1990, coconut oil had virtually disappeared from store shelves and restaurant foods,” Fife says. However, Fife had caught wind of the oil’s benefits; he learned it was being used in hospital feeding tube formulas and added to infant formulas, and being used to improve performance and endurance in sports. “I looked up every research article I could find,” he says. “I found that there was no truth to the idea that coconut oil caused heart disease. In fact, all the evidence showed that it protected against heart disease.” Today, there’s no shortage of research and cookbooks promoting coconut oil’s myriad strong points. “Sometime in the 2000s, diets like the Atkins, Paleo and keto started spreading the news that saturated fats were far from unhealthy,” explains Elizabeth Nyland, author of Cooking with Coconut Oil (WW Norton). The coconut revival has put the oil back onto pantry shelves, where, unlike some other oils, it will keep for several years. “I recommend using coconut oil anywhere you would use vegetable or other oils, although not for deep frying,” Nyland says. She adds that coconut oil is best used at temperatures under 350°F, the temperature at which it begins to smoke.

When buying coconut oil, look for a product that is:
Made from 100% organic coconuts
Certified USDA Organic
A virgin oil obtained through the cold expeller method

Some of Nyland’s coconut oil uses include:

> Adding it to smoothies in liquid or solid form as a flavor and nutrition enhancer. > Using it on toast instead of butter. > Adding it to coffee with a grass-fed butter for an energy boost. > Putting it on popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast. > Roasting vegetables in it; sweet potatoes are particularly complementary flavorwise. Appearance Enhancements Women in the tropics have long used coconut oil to maintain smooth skin and thick, silky hair. It also confers

All fats are not alike, and that’s especially true of fats found in coconut oil called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). “Most of the health properties of coconut oil come from the MCTs,” Bruce Fife says, explaining that the vast majority of the fats we consume are long chain triglycerides (LCTs), which have little-to-no benefit and contribute to the buildup of body fat. “Our bodies metabolize and process MCTs differently.” Studies have shown MCTs to be helpful for weight management and cognition issues, and to help to boost energy levels. MCTs also help the body absorb other nutrients, including minerals, the B vitamins and such fat-soluble vitamins as A, D, E and K

low-level UV protection, an SPF of about 5 or so, and contains antioxidants that help protect the skin from sun damage (although it shouldn’t be used alone for this purpose). Nyland recommends coconut oil for an all-over body and face moisturizer, a hair conditioner or mask (it is a traditional dandruff remedy), and even as a personal lubricant. Because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties, she recommends it in wound dressing and cleansing. Fife adds that the oil can speed the healing of cuts and burns and help treat acne because of its lauric acid, which helps kill the bacteria that cause skin eruptions. In addition, some people use coconut oil to remove warts and moles. (Moles that show signs of being malignant, such as those with uneven colors or margins, should always be seen by a health professional.) Nyland suggests mixing coconut oil with activated charcoal to create a toothpaste without the problematic ingredients found in standard dental care products. — Corinne Gaffner Garcia

Carrot Cake
“This cake freezes very well,” says Elizabeth Nyland. “Just defrost at room temperature and consume within four days.”

1 cup almond meal
1 ⁄3 cup coconut flour, sifted if lumpy 1 cup arrowroot flour
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ⁄2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 ⁄4 tsp ground ginger or 1″ knob fresh ginger, peeled and grated (if using fresh, add to carrots during recipe)
1 ⁄4 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp corn-free, gluten-free baking powder
9 pastured eggs
1 ⁄2 cup maple syrup
1 1 ⁄2 tsp liquid stevia
3 ⁄4 cup coconut oil or clarified butter, melted
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 navel orange, zest from 3 cups finely grated carrot

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ baking pans and line with parchment circles. 2. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. 3. In a separate large bowl, combine all wet ingredients (except the carrots and fresh ginger, if using). 4. Pour the dry into the wet ingredients, mixing well. Then stir in the carrots and fresh ginger (if using). 5. Measure batter out equally between pans (you can weigh them on a kitchen scale) and place in oven for 30–35 minutes. 6. Remove from oven and cool on cooling rack in pans for 10–15 minutes. Run a knife along the sides of the pans, then flip them out onto the cooling rack. Peel off the parchment and allow to cool completely before frosting. For the Coconut Faux Cream Cheese Frosting that completes this cake, see
Makes 1 double-layered cake. Reprinted with permission from Cooking with Coconut Oil: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Recipes for Good Living by Elizabeth Nyland (

© Copyright 2020 Discover Life Magazine. All rights reserved.