Coconut Oil - Is it good or bad for you? - Comments on the Controversy
Part III of the Healthy Heart Series
As is often the case in Nutritional Science, the answer to whether Coconut Oil should be included in a Heart Healthy diet is more complex than it might seem on the surface. There are those, like Pritikin, who say it should be avoided because it raises LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol. Others, like Mark Hyman, MD, believe it has benefits that most of the negative studies ignore. What follows is a discussion that I hope will make things clearer for you, the reader.
Coconut Oil is 92% Saturated Fat. You may remember the US Government told us years ago that Saturated Fat in any form was bad for us. We now know that’s not necessarily true. What’s really bad for us is refined carbohydrates & sugars. What’s causing heart disease is Inflammation, not Cholesterol in and of itself.
Of Coconut Oils’ Saturated Fats, most is made up of “medium chain fatty acids” that behave differently in the body than Saturated Fats of animal origin which are made up primarily of “long chain fatty acids”. The controversy about Coconut Oil revolves around the fact that it does raise LDL Cholesterol levels in the blood which, on the surface, would appear to indicate that it is harmful. What isn’t usually discussed is that not all LDLs are equal.
Current conventional testing only gives a single value for LDLs. Those of us in the preventative medicine field know that there are, indeed, bad LDLs. The LDLs that are small dense particles can as much as triple your risk for heart disease, especially if combined with high triglycerides, which are the result of a high carb, low fat diet. Adding fat back to the diet, including saturated fat, lowers that risk. It improves the quality & size of LDLs and increases HDLs (High-Density Lipoproteins), ultimately lowering the risk of heart disease. It also lowers triglycerides.
There is more valuable testing available you can request. Quest Lab has “Cardio IQ”, Lab Corp has “NMR Lipid Panel”. They can tell you whether you have predominantly the dangerous small dense LDL particles or, hopefully, plenty of light, fluffy, big particles.
Furthermore, as reported in The Annals of Internal Medicine, a recent analysis of 72 studies did not find a link between saturated fats and heart disease or stroke. A 5 yr. Sri Lankan study showed Coconut Oil to contain phenolic anti-oxidants known to decrease heart disease. And a randomized Brazilian trial of 40 women gave half the group 2 Tbsp. of Coconut Oil daily and the other half 2 Tbsp. Soy Oil daily. The Coconut group’s LDLs decreased while their HDLs increased and the exact opposite happened with the Soy Oil group.
Coconut Oil has numerous other health benefits as well. It has been shown to decrease deep abdominal fat which is implicated in both an increase in risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes. A diet that eliminates refined carbs & added sugars and replaces them with healthy fats leads to an improvement in BMI (Body Mass Index) & waist circumference. As increased Visceral Fat is a risk factor for Breast Cancer & Gall Bladder disease, there’s another reason to include the right fats in your diet.
A diet with increased fats is also more satisfying leading to a decrease in hunger which decreases overall caloric intake. High carbohydrate intake leads to a sensation of constant hunger and a desire to eat.
Coconut Oil is a good source of iron, phosphorous, zinc and other vitamins & minerals as well as protein & fiber with few naturally occurring sugars. It helps synthesize Vitamin D and other hormones and helps maintain cell structure.
The British Journal of Nutrition has reported that coconut juice from young coconuts significantly reduced the buildup of proteins in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The Lancet Neurology reported the benefits of medium chain fatty acids in the ketogenic diet known to help those with Epilepsy.
Coconut Oil is also 50% Lauric acid which has potent anti-bacterial & anti-fungal effects against Staph & Candida. Positive results have been suggested through use of Coconut Oil as a moisturizer or soap for the skin, when included in eye creams for their regenerative and anti-wrinkle effects, and as lip balm. It has been widely touted as a deep conditioner for dry, brittle hair, and as a cuticle cream. Finally, some astonishing effects have long been attributed to the cold-pressed, extra virgin form of the oil when used as a toothpaste or in so-called "oil pulling" in promoting whitening and the antibacterial effect in preventing and even curing cavities. These latter benefits have been largely anecdotal but there is no known health risk in experimenting with coconut oil.
Coconut Oil, especially as a replacement for refined carbs & sugars, does seem to have important health benefits. As with most things, excess is not to be encouraged. Moderation, along with an overall healthy lifestyle, is the key to a Healthy Heart.
Stir Fry Vegetables with Thai Coconut Sauce
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or scallions
- 5-6 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
- 1-2 thumb-size pieces galangal OR ginger, sliced into thin matchstick pieces
- 1/2 to 1 small fresh red bird chili, sliced
- 1 medium-size carrot, sliced
- 5-6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced, or left in halves or quarters
- 1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
- 1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper, sliced into strips
- 2-3 cups baby bok choy, or other Chinese cabbage (leaves left whole if not too large, otherwise cut in half or thirds)
- handful fresh Thai basil
- 2 lime leaves
- 2 pieces lemon grass, whole but fiercely bruised with back of knife
- 2 Tbsp. Coconut Oil
- 1 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 2+1/2 Tbsp. fish sauce OR soy sauce if vegetarian/vegan
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, or more to taste
- 1/3 to 1/2 tsp. dried crushed chili (chili flakes)
- 2+1/2 tsp. brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. tamarind paste mixed with 3 Tbsp. warm water (Use only 2 Tbsp. of this mixture)
Small handful whole Cilantro leaves
Half handful Thai basil leaves
6 Tbsp. chopped roasted Peanuts, unsalted
- Combine 'stir fry sauce' ingredients together in a cup or bowl. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Taste-test, keeping in mind that the first taste should be spicy-salty, followed by sweetness and the rich taste of the coconut milk. Adjust these flavors to suit your taste, adding more lime juice if too sweet or salty (note that it will be less salty when combined with the vegetables). After diluting Tamarind paste with water, use only 2 Tbsp. of resulting mixture.
- Warm a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add coconut oil and swirl around, then add the shallot/onion, garlic, ginger, and chili. Stir-fry 1-2 minutes, then add the carrot, mushrooms, and broccoli (if using), lime leaves, and bruised lemon grass. Also add 1/4 of the stir-fry sauce. Continue stir-frying 2-3 minutes.
Add the broccoli and red pepper plus enough sauce to gently simmer vegetables (about 2 minutes). Note: this is a 'saucy' stir-fry that is never dry - the sauce is meant to flavor the rice or noodles it is served with.
Finally add the bok choy or Chinese cabbage. Add more of the stir-fry sauce as needed, almost enough to just cover vegetables in sauce. Simmer until bok choy or cabbage is cooked but still bright green with some crispness (2-3 minutes more).
Remove from heat and taste-test. Remove and discard Lemon Grass. If not salty enough, add a little more fish or soy sauce. If too salty or sweet, add a squeeze of lime juice. Add more sugar or chili if desired. Top with fresh basil, Cilantro leaves, Peanuts, and serve over Thai rice noodles or Thai Coconut Rice. Note: Any leftover sauce can be stored for 1 week in a covered container in your refrigerator for future stir-fries (see below for ideas). ENJOY!
To Make this into a main course dish: Use this sauce to make a main course dish by adding chicken or shrimp, or tofu/cashews if vegetarian/vegan.
AND FOR DESSERT . . .
Lemon Pound Cake with Coconut Butter Glaze
- from Paleohacks, blog.paleohack.com
Prep Time:30 minutes
Cook Time:40 minutes
- 5 eggs
- 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup plus 1 T coconut flour
- 1/4 cup tapioca starch
- 1/2 t baking soda
- Pinch salt
- 1/3 cup coconut butter, for glaze
- 2 T maple syrup, for glaze
- 2 T lemon juice, for glaze
1. Preheat the oven to 350℉ and grease a 7.5” by 3.5” loaf pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the coconut oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
3. Add the coconut flour, tapioca starch, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.
4. Transfer to prepared loaf pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
5. Remove from pan and cool completely.
6. In a small bowl, mix together the coconut butter, maple syrup, and lemon juice for the glaze. Spread on cake.
7. Slice and enjoy.