Coconut is a healthy fat. There, I said it. And I feel so much better. Not just because of my proclamation, but because I eat it — and often. And, I haven’t gained a pound or lost an ounce of energy in the process. I consume coconut in all forms: raw, oil, milk, water, shredded.

How did this luscious fruit get such a bad (and dare I say, undeserved) rap? For years, we have heard the “experts” make claims that fat makes you fat, canola is the healthiest cooking oil, and coconut is a bad fat that promotes heart disease. Actually, none of these widely accepted ‘truths’ are, in fact, true. But don’t just take my word for it.

An article by Gary Taubes, author of “Why We Get Fat,” questioned the validity of many medical claims that fat was the “Evil Empire.” Taubes states that fat is actually our greatest source of energy, protects our organs, helps us absorb vital nutrients, and provides that feeling of satiety to keep us from overeating (see, it can help with weight loss.

Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA) that is digested differently than other saturated fats. It is processed in the liver and is used as energy, which gets burned right away, not stored as fat. MCFAs don’t havse a negative effect on LDL cholesterol; as a matter of fact, they actually increase the good (HDL) with their positive influence on ramping up our metabolism.

In an nutshell, here is a summary of the numerous health benefits coconut has to offer: (from “The Good Fat Cookbook”)

— It’s a low-fat fat, several calories fewer per gram than other fats

— It has zero cholesterol

— It increases metabolic rates

— It’s high in fiber

— It’s used for energy not stored as fat

— It’s the safest cooking oil

— It has strong antiviral properties and is effective against herpes, hepatitis C and HIV

— It prevents wrinkles and premature aging – is a great skin conditioner

— It’s anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti- inflammatory

— It’s full of antioxidants

Here are a few tips on what to look for when purchasing it:

Organic, unrefined, extra virgin and non-GMO options are always best. The extra virgin type will produce a stronger more coco-nutty flavor, so keep that in mind when making your selection.

Coconut oil has a high smoke point and is widely used in stir-fries or sautés. Remember that it will be solid, so for baking you might want to warm it up first before measuring.

Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

Serves 4

The beauty of this recipe is its versatility. Other options: a teaspoon of espresso powder and Kahlua; honey instead of syrup; Amaretto in place of vanilla. And it’s even a great boost at breakfast.

1 1/2 cups organic coconut milk (Native Forest) or homemade almond milk

1/3 cup chia seeds

2 Tbsp. raw cocoa powder

Approx. 4 Tbsp. pure maple syrup or a few drops of liquid stevia

1 Tbsp. vanilla

Fresh berries (optional)

Extra coconut milk for whipping (optional)

Mix all with a whisk or immersion blender for just a few seconds. (Any more and the pudding becomes rubbery.) Chill for at least two hours but bring to room temperature. About 15 minutes before serving. For fun, place in martini glasses and garnish with whipped coconut milk and fresh berries.

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Contact Karen Schuppert at at karen@karenschuppert.com.