> The Low-Down on Coconut Oil - The Food Safety Company The Low-Down on Coconut Oil - The Food Safety Company
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    Wednesday, 8 February 2017

    The Low-Down on Coconut Oil

    Img: Feel the Noise 
    Coconut oil has teetered on the edge of healthy due to the fact that the alternative oil is high in saturated fats. Historically, diets high in saturated fats have been linked to heart disease. For this reason, it is recommended that coconut oil intake be limited. However, recent studies have studied the biochemical effects that different subcategories of saturated fats have on the body. Fats derived from Cheetos, for example, do not deliver the same benefits that fats in coconut oil do.


    Coconut oil is created by removing the white flesh from coconuts and pressing out the liquid. Saturated fat makes up a large majority of coconut oil at 84%; by comparison, olive oil has 14% and butter has 63%. The saturated fat in coconut oil is made up of lauric acid, a type of saturated fatty acid that increases HDL. Admittedly, ingesting coconut oil increases cholesterol, but it affects the healthy kind. You want high HDL, so including coconut oil in your diet is good in that sense. Lauric acid is broken down into the compound monolaurin when ingested. Monolaurin acts as an antimicrobial agent, killing bacteria, fungi and viruses. Consuming coconut oil may then eliminate cell-damaging free radicals which accelerate aging and disease.

    The chain length of saturated fats is indicative of how healthy food is. Long-chain triglycerides (LCT) are commonly found in vegetable oils, such as olive oil. These LCTs are more difficult for the body to digest. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are found in coconut oil, and these are easily converted into energy for the body. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that MCTs boosted people’s metabolic rates. Though the boost is only temporary, studies have shown that consuming MCTs increases energy expenditure, lead to great satiety and lead to a greater proportion of weight lost coming from fat (1, 2, 3).

    Img: Nutrition Depot Philippines
    All vegetable oils – olive, rape, avocado, sesame – have about the same calorie count per tablespoon, about 120. By nature, all oils are calorie dense and do quite well at packing a ton of good fats into a small portion. If you’re trying to lose weight it’s better to get fats from consuming food rather than relying on extracted oil. Eating whole foods has the leg-up on oil as it has fibre and a host of other nutrients that are absent in oils. 

    Some of the beneficial polyunsaturated fats in oils are destroyed when heated. The smoking point of oils, the temperature at which oil begins to oxidize or burn, is different for each one. You can tell this is happening when oil begins to smoke. When this happens, the antioxidants in oil are being eliminated and cancer-causing radicals may form. Coconut oil has a higher smoke point than many other oils, including olive oil and butter. As it is made almost entirely made of saturated fat (84%), coconut oil is able to stand up to heat very well.

    In the Kitchen

    When purchasing coconut oil, be very particular about your brand. Look for natural, unrefined, extra-virgin coconut oils specifically, giving wide berth to partially-hydrogenated coconut oils as they are linked to increased risk of chronic diseases. Extra virgin coconut oil is extracted using delicate methods which preserve more antioxidants and enhance the coconut flavour of the finished product. People who aren’t used to the flavour describe foods cooked in coconut oil as having a slight coconut flavour. However, for the most part, the oil doesn’t leave much of a taste. It is used for stir-frying, sautéing or preparing food.

    A healthier alternative to coconut oil is coconut butter. This smooth concoction contains the whole coconut, carrying all the good fibre and nutrients of the whole fruit itself.

    The Verdict

    Experts in the field have expressed an unwillingness to accept the touted health benefits of coconut oil simply because of the high level of saturated fats. Much of the information purporting the wonderful health benefits of coconut oil are “short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels.”

    Walter C. Willett of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health believes that coconut oil simply can’t stand up to tried-and-true vegetable oils, specifically olive and soybean oils “which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL.”

    Jacqui Litvan

    Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).
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