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Published: Sunday, 3/17/2013

Here’s to improved health, by the spoonful

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST

Every morning, as surely as I have a second cup of coffee, I take the jar down from the second shelf in the cupboard, open the lid, and decide which method I will use to consume coconut oil. Will it be with grits, oatmeal, peanut butter, or sorghum?

Since I became a member of the legion of believers in the benefits of coconut oil, I have devised many ways to make consuming it enjoyable, or almost enjoyable. Coconut oil is a white, solid mass that looks like lard. It is sold in refined and virgin forms.

I suffer fleeting thoughts that it surely looks like vanilla ice cream, and I dutifully proceed with my daily dose. The idea came up in breakfast conversation with a cousin who was so insistent I try coconut oil that she volunteered to go to the store with me to buy it. The jar was $10, which makes it more than a brief trial, but an investment, I hope, for better health.

Jumping on a food bandwagon to better our health is popular. Remember the oat bran fad when we were baking cookies and cakes with it and even tossing it into stews? Before that, wheat germ was trendy.

It is easy to find people who promote coconut oil other than my senior relative. Dr. Good, my physician, didn’t say yea or nay about the value of the product, but said he consumes it every day because his wife puts a spoon of coconut oil in his coffee with milk. She also is a physician.

When I relayed the doctor’s story to the office nurse, she said, “I give two teaspoons of coconut oil to my son every day.” Her son is 4 years old.

And when I asked a pharmacist what he knows about coconut oil, he said, “not much, but my wife takes it every day.” She is also a pharmacist.

You may try it straight from the jar once, but I seriously doubt if you will do it again. So how do I suggest coconut oil be made more palatable? Being a peanut butter aficionado, mashing a teaspoon or two of the oil into it works fine. Another favorite method is to stir the oil into cooked grits, zap them for two minutes, and pour sorghum over it. Yes, sorghum; I love it. The same thing works with oatmeal. My cousin spoons honey over the oil in a spoon.

It can also be used as cooking oil, either for sautéing or to add to a casserole. Even though the flavor of coconut is popular in foods such as coconut cream pie and macaroons, it does not come through strong in cooking. The virgin oil that is least processed does, however, retain a slight scent and flavor.

A report on fats from the Cleveland Clinic is a reminder of the medical community’s long-standing warnings. In part, the statement reads: “Butter, whole milk, cheese, beef, palm, or coconut oil are considered bad fats because of the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

That classification hasn’t changed, but when national news programs linked coconut oil and Alzheimer’s prevention, sales increased even though there has not been a credible rigorous study to support the theory that it helps fight the disease.

Dr. Oz touted it on a recent TV show and alluded to Alzheimer’s. The interest also was ignited nationally in 2012 with a CBN news Web site video that traced the progress of a Florida Alzheimer’s patient who was taking coconut oil. It was prescribed by his wife, a neonatologist, who promoted it further it in a book, Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was A Cure?

I continue to be amazed at the number of people who have subscribed to the fad and are buying the oil, even online in bulk quantities. At the beauty salon, when I brought up the subject in my informal research, the chatter began immediately.

Only one person was using it for her brain. The others were dipping into it as a lotion for dry skin. The surprise response, in a salon of all places, was from the woman who puts it on her hair. “Then you have to wash it,” she said. I would hope so.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com



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