15 November 2013

The Truth About Coconut Oil

If there is one food product that has exploded onto the health food scene over the last 12 months, it’s coconut oil. Added to chocolate bars, pour it on your cereal, eat it with a spoon, or pour it on your salads.

I’ve seen claims by health food companies that it will burn fat and help you to drop weight fast, reduce inflammation, make you happier, and cure arthritis.
A big part of the coconut oil explosion can be put down to the point in time when super gorgeous, super healthy supermodel (I won’t mention names)announced that she had been eating it since she was a teenager, and has teaspoons of it every day to keep her healthy. Now, who would not have a desire to look like a supermodel, and if it gives us extra nutrition benefits such as clear skin, lower our risk of heart disease and can help to increase our metabolism and lose weight as the supermodel and health food companies say, then we should all be eating it correct?
Well, there are a few facts to the story that need to be made clear, so let’s go through them. I must say, the point of this article is not to scare everyone off coconut oil as we use it in moderation, instead the article is to provide the WHOLE story of coconut oil.
You will notice that there are no doctors, nutritionists, dietitians or food scientists that advocate for coconut oil being the miraculous cure-all ingredient, nor weight loss solution. So why is this?
You probably know that there are two types of fats – saturated (bad) and unsaturated (good). Saturated fats are found in animal products, with loads of evidence to show that a diet high in saturated fats leads to heart disease. On the other hand, unsaturated fats are good for us and can protect us from heart disease and can be found in fish, nuts, olive and other plant-based oils.
Take a look at the graph below. It shows you that coconut oil is made up of a minimum of 92 and up to 96% saturated fat, sitting as the highest in saturated fat content of all oils. Meat contains approximately 46% saturated fat.

Some exciting information emerged that the saturated fat (bad) in coconut oil is in fact a form of GOOD saturated fat called Medium Chain Tryglycerides (let's call them MCT's) and this is in fact true. MCT's are fat molecules joined together in a chain, shorter in length than the other saturated fat called Long Chain Triglycerides (LCT's) and as such, are more readily absorbed by our body, easier to break down, and more quickly used for energy. Wow! Coconut oil advocates jumped on this, claiming that this makes coconut oil a wonderfood. But there is much more to the story.

Let's go over it:

==>  So the  saturated fat content of coconut Oil is approx maximum 96%

==> The truth is, that not all this saturated fat is good.
 ==> It is only approximately 50% that is the good MCT's.
==> Remember the total saturated fat content of coconut oil is 96% right?
==> So you are probably wondering what the other 46% of the saturated fat in coconut oil is made up of?

Unfortunately it is the Long Chain which are not good for our health, and this is what the producers of coconut oil don't tell us.
46% of coconut oil is the unhealthy saturated fat in the form of LCT's.

There is not a lot of evidence to show that either the MCT's in coconut oil can prevent heart disease or are in fact good for us. Many of the studies are on rats, in which case the results of the studies are difficult to apply to humans. There is however, a strong amount of evidence on humans to show that a diet containing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils found in olive oil and polyunsaturated oils from oily fish, are protective against heart disease and can also assist our brain function and produce healthy skin and nails . Fish oil is also proven effective in reducing pain from athritis and inflammation.

Take another look at the graph, and you will see that coconut oil provides extremely little of the heart healthy mono and polyunsaturated oils. On the other hand oils such as rice bran, olive, and sunflower oil contain high amounts of these and much less saturated fats.

The other claim that coconut oil advocates use is that the islanders have been living off coconut oil since the dawn of time, that this also makes it a natural food taking us back to our roots and back to nature. Sure, this is true, but the communities of islanders that consume coconut oil, also eat larger quantities of fruit and vegetables, much less meats and do a ton more exercise than we as a nation do. They walk for miles to get water, and spend 3 hours fishing just to provide dinner. So you can see, it is all relative to their total lifestyle.

Coconut oil advocates also claim that it holds anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory powers, but so does garlic, onion, honey and ginger.

Going back to the supermodel, she follows a mostly vegetarian diet, containing little fat, sugar or processed foods and as such her diet is also low in kilojoules. On top of this, she does a load of exercise so for her, a few tablespoons of coconut oil a day will not be putting her above her daily intake of kilojoules that she requires.

Remember, that fats contain the most kilojoules of all macronutrients, more than carbohydrates and proteins. If you eat above what your body requires in kilojoules, this will be stored as fat. So if you are already eating more than 100g per day of meat as well as eating oils, fats, takeaway, sugary drinks, chocolate etc, the addition of coconut oil will only put you above your kilojoule requirements and lead to weight gain, which negates any of the proposed benefits of the good fats in the coconut oil anyway!

The most important thing - coconut oil does NOT contain less kilojoules or total fat than any other fat or oil out there. If I'm going to eat a fat, I would prefer it to contain a high proportion of the mono and polyunsaturated fats.

Coconut oil does have its place.

☺ A well balanced diet high in fruit and vegetables, low in processed and foods can afford to have the addition of coconut oil in moderation.
☺ It is also a good option for vegetarians and vegans as their diet is already lower in fat.
☺ Because of it's higher smoke point is also a better option for cooking foods at extremely high temperatures and therefore preventing oxidative damage to the oil if you are concerned about cancer (More on that in another post).
☺ A small amount in cakes and treats is fine to add a delicious coconut flavour and works well for people who are allergic or intolerant to dairy.
☺ I use coconut oil each day on my wiry, frizzy hair and we both use it as a skin moisturiser religiously as it has no hidden nasties compared with other skin creams.
☺ Try coconut water which contains no fat, is a delicious drink, and can be added to smoothies and curries.
☺ Coconut flesh contains fibre and other nutrients and is lower in fat and kilojoules compared to the oil.
☺ Add chia seeds to smoothies for a dose of omega oils and fibre.

The Verdict:

Coconut oil isn't a cure-all, much more research is needed. Eat a varied and balanced diet containing healthy oils from avocado, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds and remember that coconut oil still contains fat and kilojoules. Consume coconut oil only in moderation, being aware that it is not all that it is MARKETED to be. What I can't agree with is the marketing and hype that coconut oil has suddenly recieved and the false advertising you may call it, as a 'weight loss' product. Walk into any supermarket or health food store now, and there are at least 7 different brands of coconut oil on the shelves.

Knowledge is power, and now that you have the knowledge you also have the power to make your own decision about coconut oil.

Stay happy and healthy


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