Food and Nutrition Information
Foods of Interest
flax seeds (1:3.9 Ω-6:Ω-3)
walnuts (4.2:1 Ω-6:Ω-3)
olive oil (1:12.8 Ω-6:Ω-3)
"Coconut oil is better than butter and trans fats but not as good as liquid vegetable oils," says Penn State University cardiovascular nutrition researcher Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD.
"But even though coconut oil is cholesterol-free, it is still a saturated fat that needs to be limited in the diet and if you are looking for real health benefits, switch from saturated fats to unsaturated fats by using vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn, or olive oil," says Kris-Etherton, a member of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines advisory committee and Institute of Medicine's panel on dietary reference intakes for macronutrients (which include fats).
"Not all coconut oils are created equal. The flakey, fragrant stuff you might find in a superfood smoothie is a very different type of coconut oil than the partially-hydrogenated fat found in junk food in the '80s, which was a highly-processed version of the plant oil, containing trans fats and other dangerous, cholesterol-promoting compounds."
"Natural coconut oil is made of 90 percent saturated fat (butter, a distant second, contains a comparatively puny 64 percent saturated fat), but the kind of saturated fat matters just as much as the amount. About half of virgin coconut oil's saturated fat is lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride that turns out to have a number of health-promoting properties, including the ability to improve levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. People can also more easily digest medium-chain triglycerides and convert them to energy, according to The Wall Street Journal, making coconut oil a good choice for athletes. That said, because it's so high in saturated fat, even the purest, most natural coconut oil could be problematic for longterm heart health, according to a Harvard nutrition professor."
"Most of the research so far has consisted of short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. We don't really know how coconut oil affects heart disease," wrote Walter C. Willett, M.D., chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School for Public Health, in a newsletter. "And I don't think coconut oil is as healthful as vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL."
Kirkpatrick herself cooks with coconut oil about once a week for taste, but is hesitant to use any more than that until there's more research. "I really stick with olive oil," she says. "It's not as sexy, but there are so many more studies about its benefits."
- New York Times: Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World
Fats and Health
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) advises the United States and Canadian governments on nutritional science for use in public policy and product labeling programs. Their recommendations are based on two key facts. First, "trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health", whether of animal or plant origin. Second, while both saturated and trans fats increase levels of LDL, trans fats also lower levels of HDL; thus increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. The NAS is concerned "that dietary trans fatty acids are more deleterious with respect to coronary heart disease than saturated fatty acids". Because of these facts and concerns, the NAS has concluded there is no safe level of trans fat consumption. There is no adequate level, recommended daily amount or tolerable upper limit for trans fats. This is because any incremental increase in trans fat intake increases the risk of coronary heart disease. One theory is that the human lipase enzyme works only on the cis configuration and cannot metabolize a trans fat although this theory has been overturned by the recognition that trans fat is metabolized but competitively inhibits the metabolism of other fatty acids. Intake of dietary trans fat perturbs the body's ability to metabolize essential fatty acids (EFAs including Omega 3) leading to changes in the phospholipid fatty acid composition in the aorta, the main artery of the heart, thereby increasing risk of coronary heart disease. The major evidence for the effect of trans fat on CHD comes from the Nurses' Health Study — a cohort study that has been following 120,000 female nurses since its inception in 1976. In this study, Hu and colleagues analyzed data from 900 coronary events from the study's population during 14 years of followup. He determined that a nurse's CHD risk roughly doubled (relative risk of 1.93, CI: 1.43 to 2.61) for each 2% increase in trans fat calories consumed (instead of carbohydrate calories). By contrast, for each 5% increase in saturated fat calories (instead of carbohydrate calories) there was a 17% increase in risk (relative risk of 1.17, CI: 0.97 to 1.41). The net increase in LDL/HDL ratio with trans fat is approximately double that due to saturated fat.
"Medium-chain triglycerides are generally considered a good biologically inert source of energy that the human body finds reasonably easy to metabolize."