In February of last year I posted Coconut – Is it a nut? Fast forward one year later, not only is coconut still a star in the culinary news, but saturated fat has taken centre stage in health news, thanks to a flood of media stories based on a recent meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last week!

The research suggests current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage the high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats. However, there is much research about people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet having lower rates of heart disease, healthier body weights and fewer cognitive diseases. The Mediterranean way of eating is full of food choices with lower levels of saturated fat like olive oil, fish and nuts.

As a food and nutrition communicator, I’ve always promoted to Think Lifestyle and to focus on your overall food intake instead of focusing solely on a dietary silver bullet or the worst food offender. If you want to have a steak, enjoy it, however, have a reasonable portion size (4 to 6 ounces) not the Texas dinner size one! Now back to being nuts for coconut…

Coconut – The Tree of Life

In tropical and subtropical regions, the coconut tree is often referred to as the tree of life. Coconut has been used as a form of traditional medicine for thousands of years; cherished in Asian cultures, historically, the oil, milk, meat and water of the coconut have been believed to hold medicinal properties responsible for treating hair loss, burns, and heart problems (1).

Coconut and Fat

In my original post, Coconut – Is it a Nut?, I included the nutrition profile for coconut meat, milk and oil. Coconut oil is technically not oil because it becomes a solid at room temperature and contains approximately 86% saturated fat. This is much different when compared to liquid oils such as olive which has only 15% saturated fat and canola oil at 7%.

The saturated fat in coconut oil takes the form of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), which are easily transported through cellular membranes. MCFA are more easily transported across the inner mitochondrial membrane than other fatty acids, as well making them more available for oxidation, and are less likely to be stored as body fat. Nevertheless, it is not recommended to consume coconut oil in large amounts.

The controversial evidence continues about the coconut and heart health. I included a positive study in my original post. Now I’m sharing with you an earlier research study (2). It showed a beneficial antithrombitic effect (decrease in blood clotting) when women consumed a coconut oil-based diet high in saturated fats. The proportions of saturated fats in the diet had a beneficial influence on the women’s lipid profile. Other research (3) suggests coconut fat in the form of coconut milk does not have a detrimental effect on the lipid profile in healthy populations. And in actuality is valuable due to the decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol and rise in HDL (good) cholesterol levels that have been recorded.

Coconut and You

If you decide to include coconut oil and milk in your recipes, consider what type of fat you will replace. Consider the total and quality of fat plus calories in your diet and remember Think Lifestyle – there is no silver bullet food or ingredient!

Recipe

Are you ready for a refreshing spring salad recipe? Try this cucumber and coconut salad that uses both unsweetened coconut flakes and coconut water from MarthaStewart.com.

References:

  1. DebMandal M, Mandal S. Coconut: In health promotion and disease prevention. Asian Pacific journal of tropical medicine. 2011; 4(3):241-247.
  2. Müller H, Lindman AS, Blomfeldt A, Seljeflot I, Pedersen, JI. A diet rich in coconut oil reduces diurnal postprandial variations in circulating tissue plasminogen activator antigen and fasting lipoprotein (a) compared with a diet rich in unsaturated fat in women. The Journal of nutrition. 2003; 133(11):3422-3427.
  3. Ekanayaka RAI, Ekanayaka N K, Perera B, De Silva, PGSM. Impact of a Traditional Dietary Supplement with Coconut Milk and Soya Milk on the Lipid Profile in Normal Free Living Subjects. Journal of nutrition and metabolism. 2013;2013 Article ID 481060.