Sunday, 9 August 2009

Coconut oil: Good fat or bad fat?

Saturated fat is a bad fat- it increases your "lousy" LDL cholesterol that transports cholesterol to the arteries, causing plaque to form on your artery walls, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

In general, foods from animals sources contain mostly saturated fat (ie. meat, milk, cheese, butter, lard) whereas foods from plant sources contain mostly unsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil, nuts, avocadoes).

There is one main exception though: tropical oils. These so-called tropical oils, like palm oil and coconut oil, are mostly saturated.
In fact, coconut oil is 92% saturated! As such, it has generally been recommended to limit intake of coconut oil, along with animal fats, to reduce your risk of heart disease.

That said, recent
studies have indicated that coconut oil may not be as bad as we had thought.

In a 1995 study, 28 people with high cholesterol followed a diet providing 36% of total calories from fat, 50% of which came from either butter, coconut oil or safflower oil (only about 10% saturated). After 6 weeks, total cholesterol and the "lousy" LDL cholesterol were significantly higher in those on the butter diet compared to the coconut oil diet. The safflower oil diet was associated with significantly lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels compared to the butter and coconut oil groups. The same researchers confirmed the above results on healthy subjects as well.

Although coconut oil is more saturated, the saturated fat in butter comes from palmitic acid whereas the one in coconut oil comes from lauric acid. Palmitic acid (also the main fat in palm oil) has been found to have a greater negative effect on cholesterol and is therefore more conducive to heart disease than lauric acid.

So... what does this mean?

It means that non-hydrogenated coconut oil can be an alternative to butter or hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils that are high in trans fats, but it shouldn't replace other more healthful, mainly unsaturted, oils such as olive, canola, soybean, corn, safflower or sunflower oils.


Anna said...

Thanks Sybil!
Babycakes NYC owner stated she had done loads of research while developing her recipes which include primarily Coconut Oil.
The saturated fat in the coconut oil probably makes it a better substitute for butter in baked goods.
I am going to try this oil and see for myself.


Emily said...

I've done a lot of reading on coconut oil, and apparently it's supposed to be better saturated fat because it is a medium chain triglyceride and is broken down immediately for use rather than stored. Also, it may not increase cardiovascular risk. Check out Mary Enig's research:

Really contrary to what we've been taught but extremely interesting!

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks for the blog idea Anna...!

Emily- thanks for the link. You just finished your degree recently, right? It's been a while since I've been in school but are they still lumping coconut oil with meat and butter when talking about saturated fat?

Did you read Mary Enig's bio. It mentions: "...(she)has successfully challenged government assertions that dietary animal fat causes cancer and heart disease."
What are your thoughts on that?

Thanks for your comments btw!! :)