Use Your Coconut For Safer Weight Loss
When it comes to foods and health claims, it pays to use your coconut – and to rely on advice and insights from a professional nutritionist.
Case in point: Coconut oil and its touted health benefits.
It seems that some so-called experts claim that coconut oil can boost immunity, influence hormonal health, control blood sugar, help with weight control, slow aging and reduce your need for antioxidants.
When something sounds too good to be true, investigate and ask questions. I can’t help but wonder why coconut oil would possess magical properties that reduce the risk of disease. It turns out that in this case the hype behind coconut oil focuses on a single nutrient rather than overall nutrition.
Sure the coconut is an amazingly versatile fruit. It’s found in beauty products that range from skin creams to hair conditioners. Its husk is used for skin exfoliation.
And there is somewhat of a health connection. Coconut oil is rich in saturated fats that include a small percentage of medium chain triglycerides which can affect your LDL or “bad” cholesterol. However, this recommendation to add fat to your food for health reasons isn’t backed by clinical evidence.
Diets that are high in saturated fat are linked to higher rate of heart disease. Epidemiological studies link Mediterranean-type diet patterns — those including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and unsaturated fats from vegetable oils including olive oil — to lower rates of heart disease and stroke.
Coconut oil is extracted from the kernel or meat of the coconut and is comprised of 90% saturated fat. Much like hydrogenated fat, or trans fat, coconut oil is slow to oxidize. It can remain usable for up to two years without becoming rancid.
Trans fat has been shown to not only have negative effects on your HDL or “healthy” cholesterol, but to also increase your LDL cholesterol.
After trans fat was banned in some circles, many food manufacturers switched to coconut oil to produce processed items that maintain a long shelf life. This includes crackers and other baked goods.
Coconut is naturally low in sugar. A satisfying 3.5-ounce portion packs just 6 grams of sugar and 9 grams of fiber. But unless you’re buying fresh coconut, it’s hard to find unsweetened coconut. The shredded varieties are usually packaged with sugar.
Savvy dieters know that when you add extra fat and sugar to your diet you’re adding calories—and little else as far as nutritional value is concerned.
Fat is the most nutrient-dense food around. Like all oils, just one tablespoon of coconut oil packs over 100 calories. Since coconut oil does not contain any protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals or fiber, you’re basically ingesting empty calories — and calories count.
Health expert Walter Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health says that most of the research on coconut oil and its affect on lowering cholesterol are inconclusive. He also emphasizes that the 90% saturated fat content of coconut oil is much higher than butter (64%), beef fat (40%) and even lard (also 40%).
Truth and Consequences
Coconut oil is mainly comprised of saturated fat. There’s no substantiated research to link consumption to better health for the average consumer.
It’s important to eat foods, not nutrients. Whole foods are comprised of a smorgasbord of unique ingredients that in concert with a satisfying meal provide you with extra energy and better health.
I totally agree with Dr. Willet’s observation that coconut is a wonderful flavor and there’s no problem using coconut oil occasionally.
Susan Burke March, MEd, RDN, CDE
Food, Nutrition, and Your Health columnist for www.CuencaHighLife.com