I love to cook. Yet much of my domestic culinary life has been shadowed by my obsession to remove unhealthy saturated fats from my family's diet. After all, isn't it a given that fat is bad for you? And haven't I struggled with my weight, my heart health and my love of a good French fry?
As a dermatologist, I've taken comfort in the knowledge that many of those good-for-us unsaturated fats also have healthy skin benefits. The omega-3s from sources like fish, walnuts and olive and canola oils work to keep skin less eczema-prone, and reduces dryness and sensitivity. Hair looks lustrous and becomes less brittle while nails get stronger.
Yet I have avoided one of my favorite food sources due to my concern that it was high in "bad" fat. Warned about the high levels of saturated fat found in coconut oils, I sadly said goodbye to coconut milk-based sauces, macaroons, piña coladas and chocolate bars. My palate protested the unfairness of a plant saturated with saturated fat!
To my delight, I’ve since learned that sometimes a "bad" fat (at least in modest portions), can be a skin-healthy choice. Initially, I discovered that my general health concerns about using either coconut or coconut oil in my recipes was unfounded. Coconut oil is composed of an unusual medium chain fatty acid. These fats don't wreak the havoc on the cardiovascular system that its saturated-fat cousins cause.
Virgin coconut oil has an amazing ability to fight free-radical damage, presumably because it is rich in ferulic and p-coumaric acid. Consumed, this means these powerful antioxidants can fight free-radical damage and is now yet another tool in my wrinkle-busting arsenal. Applied topically, it has been shown to be useful in wound healing.
A recent journal article put omega-3-rich fish oils head-to-head with omega-6-rich coconut oil. Guess what they found? A diet rich in omega-3 fish oil alone led to a significant decrease in the body's ability to fight free-radical damage, presumably due to a noticeable drop in blood levels of vitamins E and A.
End result, while fish oils decreased plasma blood fats, they created a challenge to the antioxidant defense system. Not good news for banishing wrinkles. The best way to handle this for maximum skin health is to incorporate both omega-3 and omega-6 fats into your diet, both in moderation, of course.
Another plus, coconut oil contains lauric acid which boosts immunity and fights infection. The only other major source is mother's milk. Presumably for one prone to skin concerns that leave broken skin exposed to possible bacterial infection (such as eczema), having adequate levels of lauric acid could prove useful in reducing the risk of a secondary bacterial infection.
And finally, it has been suggested that individuals consuming virgin coconut oil instead of soybean, olive or corn oils may see a boost in metabolism and an edge in their attempts to lose weight. Now isn't that worth cooking for?