The Mysterious Coconut

I think about coconuts.  A lot.  This has been going on for years.  I have a thing for nutrition controversies.  I want to give my clients the right information as well as keep my body healthy.  So, I question things that don’t sit right with me.

The issue I am talking about here is…what is the deal with coconut?  Is it good or is it bad?  The fact is, it is mainly composed of saturated fat.  Conventional wisdom tells us that saturated fat is evil.  But how can the beautiful, delicious coconut be an unhealthy thing?  I don’t think it is.

First it was thought that fats in general were bad.  Then scientists wised up and realized that there are different types of fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated) and that some of them are actually quite good for us.  The first two, and especially monounsaturated, got put into the good category, while saturated was labeled as the bad guy.  But later researchers discovered that not all saturated fats are the same.  Some forms of saturated fat, like stearic acid (found in….yes!  Chocolate!)  are actually heart friendly.  On a side note, I feel it’s important to mention that all fats are made up of a blend of mono, poly, and saturated.  No fat is strictly one particular type.  Olive oil is referred to as mono because it has a large percentage of monounsaturated fats and coconut is considered  saturated because it has a large percentage of saturated fat, but keep in mind that all sources of fats are made up of a combo of all three.

Think saturated fats contribute to heart disease?  Think again.

Fats are a fascinating topic that could really be explored from all sorts of angles and could get pretty in-depth.  The usual dietary advice is severely simplified and the effects of fats on disease are not clearly understood.

Meta-analysis of studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with heart disease.

We know what the research tells us about foods high in saturated fats- they tend to raise total cholesterol levels.  Whether this is detrimental to heart health could also be debated, as HDL (your good/protective cholesterol) is raised along with your LDL (bad cholesterol).  And just to confuse you even more, did you realize that LDL cholesterol has several different subtypes, not all of them dangerous?  On the one hand we have made some progress with what we have learned about how the human body functions, but there is still so much more to discover.

Back to the coconut.  The curious thing about coconut is, in parts of the world where coconuts are abundant and people eat them on a daily basis, heart disease rates are phenomenally low.  You’d think with all the talk about saturated fats clogging up arteries that they’d be having heart attacks left and right.  They’re not.

Coconut oil:  atherogenic or not?

 Dietary intake and the risk of coronary heart disease among the coconut-consuming Minangkabu in West Sumatra, Indonesia

Most people who I talk with rarely eat coconut.  Personally, I use it to make a lot of my desserts because it does a fantastic job of holding my no-bake brownies together, firming up my fruity cheezecakes, and preventing my homemade granola bars from crumbling when I cut them.  It’s the coconut butter I use, which is nothing more than dried coconut flesh blended up, in the same what that peanuts are blended up into peanut butter.  It’s a whole food, albeit high in fat/saturated fat, but it’s just a coconut, a food that people in tropical climates have enjoyed as a staple in their diet for generations without any harmful effects.  I wouldn’t recommend consuming lots of the oil and most definitely not any product made with partially hydrogenated coconut oil.

I urge you to come to your own conclusions about coconuts.  What do you think?

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One Response to The Mysterious Coconut

  1. I’ve also wondered about coconut oil. There are great studies supporting it for weight loss and others saying it has unhealthy fats in it. I really enjoy cooking with it and it’s a great, light tasting oil that really can’t be beat in recipes.

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