Naturopathic Pantry #2: Coconut Oil

The non-fat/low-fat craze has really gotten into our nutritional psyche and we are now scared of fat. There is a rampant belief that eating fat will make us gain weight, lead to high cholesterol and cause heart disease. This conclusion is mainly due to an impactful study from the 1950s by Ancel Keys. In his Seven Countries study, he set out to look at rates of heart disease and lifestyle and concluded that in countries with high rates of heart disease, people ate diets high in saturated fat. Thus, saturated fat was correlated with high levels of cholesterol and consequent heart disease. Although this was merely a correlation rather than a causation, the belief was ingrained: eating fat=heart disease.

However, over the the past 50 years that our diets have tended to favor simple carbs over healthy fat, heart disease and metabolic disorders have increased. And, in 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed all the research and concluded that intake of saturated fat did not lead to an increase in risk of heart disease! So, yes, trans fats and oxidized fats are definitely to be avoided, but let's not brush with a wide stroke here and forget that there are tremendously healthy fats for the eating. 

Among those healthy fats, is coconut oil. As a plant-based saturated fat, it: 

  • is highly anti-inflammatory
  • is a great energy source without spiking insulin (very important when regulating blood sugar and preventing/managing diabetes)
  • increases metabolism making you use calories more efficiently while feeling full faster
  • improves the ratio of total cholesterol:HDL which is the best indicator of healthy cholesterol levels

All while being quite delicious and a satisfying cooking oil. I like to pair it with asian spices and the addition of coconut milk in the stew below not only adds a nice silkiness to the fragrant notes of lemongrass and ginger, but also gives you a double dose of coconut's nutritional goodness. . 

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Lentil and coconut stew + Sibley squash 
serves 4-6

I had a large winter squash (named above) from the farm that I've been working to get through. Any winter squash will do here, aside from spaghetti squash. If buying squash just for this purpose, something on the small-medium end (about 1.5 lbs) should give you roughly 2 cups. New to lemongrass? Check out this quick primer

1 cup green lentils
4 cups water/broth
2 garlic cloves, halved
1/2 tsp sea salt

2 TBS extra virgin coconut oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
cilantro stems from 1 bunch, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, peeled and minced
2 cups squash, 1/2-inch dice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 can of coconut milk (full fat)
1 bunch chard, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lime
cilantro sprigs, as garnish

Rinse lentils and add to large saucepan with garlic and salt. Cover with water/broth and bring to a gentle boil and then down to a simmer. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add onion, lemongrass and cilantro stems. Sauté for about 10 minutes until onion is translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook another few minutes. Add squash, spices and salt. Cook for 5 minutes more, then transfer veggie mixture to pot with lentils. Add a ladleful of liquid from lentils to skillet and scrape up any golden bits that stuck to the bottom and add to soup pot. Let simmer on low for 10-15 minutes until squash is tender. Add in coconut milk and simmer another 5 minutes. Stir in chard, taste for seasoning and finish with lime juice and cilantro sprigs.