Thursday, January 13, 2011
Coconut as Superfood
I tried to come up with a clever title for this one, but alas, you're just going to get the business end of things. I've talked a lot about the many ways we supplement J's calorie intake, my favorite of which is coconut oil. As a responsible chatterbox, I have to remind you, I'm not a doctor, dietitian, or any sort of registered expert on the topic. And you should ALWAYS consult your medical team when making alterations to your diet, ESPECIALLY if you have special dietary needs like Cystic Fibrosis. Having said that, I research the living daylights out of things and I'm pretty handy with the brain cells, so here's the low down.
Coconut Oil is good for darn near all of us, and especially good for CFers, and here's why:
MCTs- Coconut Oil is chock full of Medium Chain Triglyceride fatty acids, like Lauric Acid and Caprylic Acid. There are three kinds of fatty acids found in foods. The vast majority of fats in our diets are made up of long chain triglycerides. MCTs, being shorter, are easier for our digestive systems to break down and convert into energy. Aside from being generally beneficial, this is especially helpful for those with Cystic Fibrosis, who struggle with malabsorption of fats and proteins. And and roughly 120 calories per tablespoon, it is a healthy, beneficial way to supplement a CFers calorie needs. Coconut oil also has documented anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, and thus is widely accepted to have immunity boosting qualities. Rather than enumerating the studies I have read, I can direct you to CoconutOil.com, where you can read the articles and peer reviewed studies for yourself. I can say in our experience I have plenty of reason to believe that this is true. For one, we have been free of oral and intravenous antibiotics since Jackson's release from the hospital in October, the same time at which I adopted coconut oil as a primary calorie supplement in his diet. (Addendum- since writing this post, J has begun a new course of oral antibiotics, but considering this is his first winter and he went almost 4 months without them, I still think we're ahead of the curve!)
While coconut oil is a food, not a drug, you should be fully educated about it before deciding if it's right for you or your child. It is not recommended for use by those who have had an organ transplant or are otherwise undergoing immunosuppressive therapies, due to the immune strengthening properties. Also, if and when you have decided with your medical team to add coconut oil to your diet, proceed slowly. For an adult, it is said that approximately 4tbs per day will maximize your benefits, but you may want to start with 1 and work up. When we began the big calorie push for Jackson, we quickly moved him up to 2 tbsp per meal, which meant 4-6 per day. AT this level, the anti-bacterial properties flushed all of the good flora out of his intestinal tract, leaving him with diarrhea and diaper rash as if he were on an antibiotic. Once we learned the cause, we backed off on the amount, but kept it as a staple in his diet, and the problems cleared up almost immediately.
Wait, there's more!
In my research of all of the lovely benefits of coconut oil I discovered it has many more uses than just a dietary supplement. Here's where I start to sound like an infomercial. I use it to moisturize my skin, condition my hair, and treat J's diaper rash. The rash that popped up when we gave him too much coconut oil? Treated and healed by coconut oil. Strange but true. It can benefit cracked, dry, winter skin and eczema, work like a lip balm, soothe split ends, and is a cloth diaper friendly butt salve. It's not hard to see why I love it. It also has a very unique quality in that coconut oil is a solid at temperatures under 75 degrees F (about 24 C) and melts at warmer temperatures. It won't take long for you to figure out the 'personality' of the oil when working with it. I love it because on the occasion that I have made Jackson's food too runny, I can pop it in the refrigerator for a minute or so and as the oil cools, it thickens up nicely.
Why are there so many different kinds?
If you go to buy coconut oil, you'll find that there are several varieties to choose from. Here's the skinny on what all that terminology means:
Organic: This means that the coconuts used were not treated with any pesticides
Expeller Pressed: This type of coconut oil is extracted basically by crushing the coconut meat until the oil comes out. No nutritive properties are lost in this method of extraction.
Virgin: means that nothing has been added or removed to the oil. While it has been filtered to remove impurities, it retains all of its nutritive properties and all of the flavor and scent of coconuts.
Refined: This oil has been treated and bleached to remove any color, flavor or scent of coconut. It is the most used type worldwide
. I personally use Organic, expeller pressed, Virgin coconut oil. I don't find the smell or flavor to be offensive or excessively strong, but this is a personal preference.
There are also Fractionated and Hydrogenated versions that do not retain the nutritional properties of Virgin coconut oil, and I don't recommend them for the uses I've discussed.
Where to score some:
I like to order from TropicalTraditions.com, but can also easily find coconut oil at Central Market, Whole Foods, or my local health food stores. This was a good way for me to start, since I wasn't sure right away which type we would like best and I could try small batches of different types. I'm now saving up to buy my first gallon-bucket size, since we are using it for so many things. I have had so may questions since I began extolling the virtues of coconut oil. I hope I've been able to give a good background on why we use it and answer some of the most common questions about it.