Friday, March 21, 2014

Coo-coo for Coconuts

Coconut oil is the latest “super-good-for-you” food claiming to improve cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, increase metabolism aiding in weight loss, and fight off  infection.

For years every major health organization advised consumers to avoid high consumption of coconut oil due to it being high in saturated fat. Today we are hearing the type of saturated fat in coconut may not be harmful to our health.
There are two types of coconut oils, hydrogenated coconut oil and virgin coconut oil. Hydrogenated coconut oil is manufactured and contains trans fats which turn good cholesterol into bad cholesterol in your body. Many major health organizations are lobbying to have trans fats removed from all foods. It is important to read food labels on packaged goods to ensure it does not contain trans fats, hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated coconut oil is no exception and should not be consumed.

Virgin coconut oil, or regular coconut oil that is not hydrogenated typically means the oil has been unprocessed. Unlike olive oil, there is not an industry standard for the meaning of “virgin”. It is assumed the coconut oil has not been refined or bleached. 1 tablespoon of coconut oil has 120 calories and meets 60% of the maximum amount of saturated fat allowed in a 2000 calorie diet. If you have that with 4 ounces of beef you have exceeded your daily limit. Here is a side by side comparison with 1 tablespoon of olive oil:

 Historically polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are considered the “good fats” that prevent heart disease and improve cholesterol levels in the body. Trans fats and saturated fats have been considered the “bad fats” that cause plaque buildup in the arteries and lead to heart disease. The unique feature of coconut oil is that it contains mostly medium-chain triglycerides that may not have a significant effect on cholesterol.
Medium-chain triglycerides are digested rapidly and are broken down immediately. Once in the blood stream they are sent directly to the liver which uses them for energy or stores them as fat. It is thought the rapid speed of digestion leads to increased energy and increases in metabolism helping to promote weight loss.

For all the positive effects we hear about coconut oil we rarely hear the negative or harmful effects. Because medium-chain triglycerides are rapidly delivered to the liver, overconsumption can lead to added stress on your liver and some studies show it may contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Ketones are also produced as a byproduct of metabolism and can be a large concern for people with diabetes. Diabetics and people with liver disease are encouraged not to consume medium-chain triglycerides. Other side effects of consumption include nausea, gastric distress, and diarrhea. Coconut oil also contains omega-6 fatty acids that produce a more inflammatory effect on the body while oils containing omega-3 fatty acids produce an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Eating too much of anything is unhealthy and something as concentrated in calories as fat can quickly lead to weight gain, increasing risk of cardiovascular disease. When we hear recommendations to “eat more healthy fats” I often see clients take this as an invitation to use copious amounts of oil on everything they eat. A well balanced 2000 calorie diet should include 6 teaspoons of healthy fat daily. 1 teaspoon of oil is equivalent to:

·         1 ½ tsp nut butter

·         2 Tbs avocado

·         6 almonds

·         8 black olives

·         1 Tbs regular salad dressing

·         2 Tbs reduced-fat salad dressing

·         1 Tbs flaxseed

·         1 slice bacon

·         2 Tbs sour cream

As you can see an ounce of almonds and dressing on your salad meets your recommended 6 tsp daily. Remember you will be consuming additional fat in the protein you consume, as well as in other processed foods. When all of this is taken into account you want to end up with consuming about 50-75g of fat overall for the day on a 2000 calorie diet. There is no need to go overboard with covering everything in oil.
The reality is we do not have enough information at this time to know for sure if coconut oil does harm or good for the body. There certainly are better options out there such as olive and canola oil which have been very beneficial in decreasing cholesterol and providing better ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids promoting anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Instead of playing roulette with your health it is best not to switch over to the coconut oil trend. I always say everything in moderation…enjoying coconut oil from time to time is not dangerous but making it a steady part of your diet may not be so positive.

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