Review: The Coconut Oil Miracle

The set-up to this simple book review is a little long.  Bare with me, there is an amazing payoff.  The issues of health are quite complex and we simply can no longer afford to sum them up in 300 words.

For decades now Americans have mistakenly associated “skinny” with “healthy.” They are not the same thing. You can be perfectly healthy while still sporting a belly roll. Six packs abs, though sexy, are usually the result of dehydration. However, you will be healthier if you reduce the excess body weight and that, unquestionably, is where the confusion comes in.

Actual Fake Newspaper HeadlineIn their quest to get your attention the national media comes up with headlines that confuse health issues.  For instance, the media has erroneously reported that salt causes heart disease, hypertension and any number of ailments, not true at all.  What research has determined is that salt aggravates existing conditions but there is no evidence that it causes them.  Salt can aggravate  high blood pressure doesn’t sell newspapers like Salt, the silent killer.  The downside is there are idiot law makers out there that only bother to read headlines when deciding public policy (yes I am talking about you, New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz).

One of the most egregious examples of the national media twisting scientific research in pursuit of the almighty dollar is the assault on fats that began in the early 1990’s.  First they reported that we should eliminate all fats from our diets.  When enough nutritionists complained they revamped it to say that saturated fats were evil and we should eat more unsaturated fats.  What science has determined (and the media ignored) is that it is not an issue with fats at all.

It is all about fatty acids – a fatty acid is a carboxylic acid consisting of four or more carbon atoms connected by a unbranched aliphatic tail called a chain.  These chains can be short, medium or long.

Does that sound confusing?  It is.  And simply put the average journalist cannot comprehend it, not without studying the science involved anyway.  Therefore we get summaries like, “eliminate saturated fats from your diet.”  Our bodies require two types of fatty acids to perform properly, Omega 6 (usually found in saturated fats) and Omega 3 (usually found in unsaturated fats).  Obesity occurs when there are significantly more Omega 6’s than Omega 3’s.

One of the casualties of the assault on fats, aside from the truth, is the assumption certain botanicals are bad for you because they are high in them.  Avocado springs to mind.  For most of the 90’s we were told not to eat avocado because it has too much fat.  As it turns out, avocado is quite healthy.  Another item we were told to avoid was coconut oil; it’s a saturated fat.

The Payoff

Bruce Fife, a certified nutritionist and naturopathic doctor, has written an eye-opening book on coconut oil and its unmatched health attributes.  The medical shock journalists are right, coconut oil is a saturated fat, but, as Fife explains, it is a remarkably healthy one.  In The Coconut Oil Miracle (Avery, 2004), Fife examines the science the media has chosen to ignore.

The author explains the three kinds of fatty acid chains in depth, short (olive and canola oil), long (butter, lard) and medium (coconut oil).  He illustrates how medium chain fatty acids (MCFA’s) have been proven to promote weight loss, defend against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis, prevents premature aging of the skin, bolsters the immune system and can even improve digestion.

As it turns out pan fried chicken cooked in coconut oil is is better for you than grilled chicken.  Gravy made with coconut oil and organic flour is better for you than gravy made with low sodium stock and corn starch made from genetically modified corn.  What’s even better about cooking with coconut oil is that the taste and texture are exactly what you would expect with unhealthy fats.  There is no coconut flavor either.

Coconut oil does have its drawback though it is mainly functional.  It has a low smoke point, 350 degrees, which is too low for most deep frying.  Seafood should be fried at 360 to 375.  You can deep fry at 350 but do not expect your batter to be as crispy (this can be helped by using rice flour instead of wheat flour).  Breaded items tend to do ok.  You can use coconut oil for anything you sauté.

Fife relies on tons of research citing each by name so you can check the results yourself.  There have been countless studies done on isolated cultures in the Pacific where coconut makes up a large portion of the daily diet.  The findings reveal that these societies have an astoundingly low occurrence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The Coconut Oil Miracle is an example of the kind of research each of us should be doing ourselves.  Trusting in hit-and-run journalism in magazines and on the nightly news has done more harm than good to our society.  Fife’s book is a testimony to proper research but it does have one drawback, the recipes.  I have tested a few and they have been at best okay and at worst an utter disaster (like the coconut oil mayonnaise).

This does not surprise me.  Most nutritionists I have known do not care if something doesn’t taste good or has a funky texture as long as it is healthy.  If this were not true it is doubtful anyone would have ever had to endure a rice cake or tofu.  The key to cooking with coconut oil is to simply use it where you would other fats, especially saturated fats.  Fried chicken , biscuits, gravy, et al can be a part of your everyday diet if you use coconut oil.

If you are serious about eating healthy then you need to stop relying on articles (like this one) and start reading books (like The Coconut Oil Miracle).  You have to do research – in-depth, time consuming research – otherwise don’t bother.  Eat whatever you want and suffer the consequences because flowing from one fad to another is far worse for you than just not giving a damn.

Other suggested reading to help you do your own research:
The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten
Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth
Substitute Yourself Skinny by Susan Irby

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
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