Coconut Oil – Hero or Villain?

Coconut Oil – Hero or Villain?

Coconut oil, according to recent reports, is the latest food cure-all. There’s also growing evidence in the scientific world that saturated fat isn’t the big bad culprit it has been made out to be as a cause for heart disease. There’s also increasing concern that the fats recommended to replace saturated fat, the polyunsaturated fats common in vegetable oils, may be unnecessary.

Coconut oil is saturated oil and is mostly small and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) as opposed to other saturated fats like animal fats, which are long-chain triglycerides (LCTs).  When ingested, MCT is readily burned in the body as energy unlike LCT which travels through the circulatory system before it is used as energy.  This process can leave fatty deposits in the tissue.

Currently, many health organizations recommend the replacement of saturated fats (such as coconut) with vegetable oils like corn, soybean, sunflower and safflower oil, which contain a high proportion of omega-6 linoleic acid versus omega-3 linolenic fatty acids.

In a recently published meta-analysis of dietary linoleic acid and its effects on cardiovascular disease mortality in the British Journal of Medicine, researchers report that selectively increasing intake of vegetable oils high in omega-6 linoleic acid and lacking in omega-3 linolenic acid was associated with higher rates of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular mortality, providing supporting evidence that omega-6 linoleic acid itself is a key component mediating these effects (Ramsden et al., 2013). Since the 1960s, our exposure to vegetable oils has grown significantly. A significant increase in soybean oil started in the 1960s, about the same time we were told to consume more vegetable oils in place of saturated fat. Now soybean oil and canola oil is found in the majority of today’s processed foods.

Clinical studies are beginning to show that coconut oil is neutral in its effects on blood lipids and will not cause an increase in cholesterol or cause cardiovascular disease (Norton et al. 2004).  Coconut oil has even been shown to increase the High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or the so called “good cholesterol”, reducing the risk for coronary heart disease.

The saturated fat debate is indeed a heated one and there is still more research to be done, so before you start replacing all of your cooking essentials with coconut branded products, here are a few tips to reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids and boost your omega-3 acid intake.

First, eat fewer processed foods. The three most common vegetable oils: corn, soybean, and canola oil are common in processed foods. Use a daily fish oil supplement or increase your fish intake to help reset your omega-6 and omega-3 ratios toward a healthier balance. Conventional oils are unstable fats and oxidize with heat–either through cooking or heated processing; you don’t need a processed oil for cooking. Instead, cook with saturated and monounsaturated fat-rich oils such as ghee or coconut oil. When olive oil is used at high temperatures, its healthy nutrients and healthy fats begin to degrade – so it is best to save this type of oil for sautéing vegetables over medium heat or for salad dressings.

 

 

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Kasia Ciaston

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