Why is coconut oil healthier when it has so much saturated fat?

Why is coconut oil healthier when it has so much saturated fat?

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I noticed that coconut oil has ~96% saturated fat, and I was under the assumption that saturated fats = bad for health.

Why is it that coconut oil is healthier to alternatives with much less saturated fat?

coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides, 1)it is smaller than other long-chain triglycerides so that it can be digested easily, 2)the digestion of coconut oil does not involve in the Pancreatic digestive enzyme system, 3) liver prefer use medium-chain triglycerides as the fuel sources 4) medium-chain triglycerides will convert to monoglyceride and medium-chain fatty acid which have strong antibacterial

Coconut Oil

In recent years, the popularity of coconut and particularly coconut oil has soared because of touted health benefits. Fueling the coconut oil trend, celebrity endorsements have claimed the ingredient to help blast away belly fat, curb appetite, strengthen the immune system, prevent heart disease, and stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A survey found that 72% of Americans rated coconut oil as “healthy,” though only 37% of nutrition experts agreed. [1] Coconut oil is popular in several trending diets including ketogenic and Paleo diets.

As consumer demand for plant-based foods increases, coconut oil has become a popular fat choice for its rich flavor with a mild coconut aroma.

Rich in

Coconut oil is 100% fat, 80-90% of which is saturated fat. This gives it a firm texture at cold or room temperatures. Fat is made up of smaller molecules called fatty acids, and there are several types of saturated fatty acids in coconut oil. The predominant type is lauric acid (47%), with myristic and palmitic acids present in smaller amounts, which have been shown in research to raise harmful LDL levels. Also present in trace amounts are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Coconut oil contains no cholesterol, no fiber, and only traces of vitamins, minerals, and plant sterols. Plant sterols have a chemical structure that mimics blood cholesterol, and may help to block the absorption of cholesterol in the body. However, the amount found in a few tablespoons of coconut oil is too small to produce a beneficial effect.

Coconut Oil and Health

  • Many of the health claims for coconut oil refer to research that used a special formulation of coconut oil made of 100% medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), not the commercial coconut oil most available on supermarket shelves. MCTs have a shorter chemical structure than other fats, and so are quickly absorbed and used by the body. After digestion, MCTs travel to the liver where they are immediately used for energy. The theory is that this quickly absorbed form promotes satiety and prevents fat storage. Coconut oil contains mostly lauric acid, which is not an MCT. Lauric acid is absorbed more slowly and metabolized like other long-chain fatty acids. So the health benefits reported from a specially constructed MCT coconut oil that contains medium-chain triglycerides other than lauric acid cannot be applied directly to commercial coconut oils. [2]
  • Although epidemiological studies find that groups of people who include coconut as part of their native diets (e.g., India, Philippines, Polynesia) have low rates of cardiovascular disease, it is important to note that many other characteristics, dietary and other, could be explanatory. Also, the type of coconut they eat is different than what is used in a typical Western diet. These groups do not eat processed coconut oil, but the whole coconut as coconut meat or pressed coconut cream, along with an indigenous diet of foods rich in fiber and low in processed and sugary foods. [2]
  • A literature review on the use of coconut products (oil, milk, flesh, or cream) included 21 observational and clinical studies. [2]
    • The epidemiological studies observed people from Samoa, the Philippines, New Zealand, and New Guinea consuming whole coconut as part of their traditional diets. Overall their diets were similar: coconut flesh and milk, fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish. Studies found that those who ate higher amounts of coconut oil had increased beneficial HDL cholesterol levels but also increased total cholesterol and triglycerides.
    • Eight small short-term clinical trials lasting from 5-8 weeks with a range of 9-83 participants were examined with an intervention of a coconut oil diet. When compared with a butter or unsaturated fat (olive or safflower oil) diet, coconut oil raised total cholesterol, HDL, and harmful LDL levels more than unsaturated oils, but not more than butter. Coconut oil was also found to raise total and LDL cholesterol to a greater or similar degree as other saturated fats like beef fat and palm oil.
    • The authors concluded that because of coconut oil’s effects on raising blood cholesterol including harmful LDL and in some cases triglycerides, and because its cholesterol-raising effects were comparable to other saturated fats, the oil should not be viewed as a heart-healthy food and should be limited in the diet.

    Purchase and Storage

    Coconut oil is made by pressing fresh coconut meat or dried coconut meat called copra. Virgin coconut oil uses fresh meat, while refined coconut oil typically uses copra. Unlike olive oil, the terms “virgin” and “extra virgin” are not regulated with coconut oil. There is no difference in products labeled with these terms.

    • Virgin or Extra Virgin (interchangeable terms): If using a “dry” method, the fresh coconut meat of mature coconuts is dried quickly with a small amount of heat, and then pressed with a machine to remove the oil. If using a “wet” method, a machine presses fresh coconut meat to yield milk and oil. The milk is separated from the oil by fermentation, enzymes, or centrifuge machines. The resulting oil has a smoke point of about 350 degrees Fahrenheit (F), which can be used for quick sautéing or baking but is not appropriate for very high heat such as deep-frying. You may also see the following terms on labels of coconut oil:
      • Expeller-pressed—A machine presses the oil from coconut flesh, often with the use of steam or heat.
      • Cold-pressed—The oil is pressed without use of heat. The temperature remains below 120 degrees F this is believed to help retain more nutrients.

      Store coconut oil in a cool dark location in a sealed container or in the refrigerator. The shelf life will vary, depending on the type of processing and how it is stored. Refined coconut oil generally lasts for a few months, whereas virgin coconut oil may last for 2-3 years if stored properly away from heat and light. Signs of spoilage include mold, a yellow tint, or “off” odors or flavors.


      Coconut oil has a melting point of 78 degrees F. If the oil liquefies on a very warm day, stir well before using.

      • When substituting coconut oil for butter or vegetable shortening, use 25% less coconut oil than the amount of butter listed in the recipe due to its higher percentage of fat solids. Use refined coconut oil if you do not want a coconut flavor.
      • Sauté vegetables in one tablespoon of virgin coconut oil to vary the flavor.
      • Add a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil to sauces and curries to enhance flavor.

      Did you know?

      • The Philippines is the greatest worldwide producer of coconut oil. Indonesia and India are the next largest producers. The Philippines, European Union, United States, and India are the greatest consumers of coconut oil.
      • Coconut oil is an effective moisturizer for skin and hair. Using a small amount, gently massage directly into skin. For dry or frizzy hair, apply a small amount to the hair shaft and leave in for desired time (a few minutes to overnight), and then wash out.


      1. Quealy, K. and Sanger-Katz, M. Is Sushi ‘Healthy’? What About Granola? Where Americans and Nutritionists Disagree. New York Times. July 5, 2016.
      2. Eyres L, Eyres MF, Chisholm A, Brown RC. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutrition reviews. 2016 Apr 174(4):267-80.
      3. Neelakantan N, Seah JY, van Dam RM. The Effect of Coconut Oil Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials. Circulation. 2020 Mar 10141(10):803-14.
      4. Sacks FM, Lichtenstein AH, Wu JH, Appel LJ, Creager MA, Kris-Etherton PM, Miller M, Rimm EB, Rudel LL, Robinson JG, Stone NJ. Dietary fats and cardiovascular disease: a presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017 Jan 1:CIR-0000000000000510.

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      Ask the doctor: Coconut oil and health

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      Q. I have started noticing more coconut oil at the grocery store and have heard it is better for you than a lot of other oils. Is that true?

      A. I've also noticed that coconut oil seems to be catching on these days. Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, which is a higher percentage than butter (about 64% saturated fat), beef fat (40%), or even lard (also 40%). Too much saturated fat in the diet is unhealthy because it raises "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease. So it would seem that coconut oil would be bad news for our hearts.

      But what's interesting about coconut oil is that it also gives "good" HDL cholesterol a boost. Fat in the diet, whether it's saturated or unsaturated, tends to nudge HDL levels up, but coconut oil seems to be especially potent at doing so.

      Saturated fat is divided into various types, based on the number of carbon atoms in the molecule, and about half of the saturated fat in coconut oil is the 12-carbon variety, called lauric acid. That is a higher percentage than in most other oils, and is probably responsible for the unusual HDL effects of coconut oil. But plant-based oils are more than just fats. They contain many antioxidants and other substances, so their overall effects on health can't be predicted just by the changes in LDL and HDL.

      Coconut is a wonderful flavor and there's no problem using coconut oil occasionally. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so cooks are experimenting with using it instead of butter or vegetable shortening to make pie crust and other baked goods that require a solid source of fat. And if you're preparing a Thai dish, cooking with coconut oil may be essential.

      But, for now, I'd use coconut oil sparingly. 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. 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. Coconut oil's special HDL-boosting effect may make it "less bad" than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it's still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.

      — Walter C. Willett, M.D.
      Harvard School of Public Health
      Department of Nutrition
      Harvard Health Letter Editorial Board

      Olive Oil vs. Coconut Oil: Which Is Heart-Healthier?

      You’re trying to follow a diet that’s heart-healthy. You’re eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish and nuts (go you!). But you’re not sure what the best choice is when it comes to cooking oils.

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      You might have read that olive oil and coconut oil are good for your heart health. But is that true, and if so, which is better? Registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, sets the record straight.

      Fat matters

      With a quick look at the nutrition label, you might think that these two kinds of oils are very similar. Both olive oil and coconut oil have about the same number of calories (120 per tablespoon) and grams of fat (14 per tablespoon). But not all fat is created equal.

      Breaking down the types of fat in these two oils paints a better picture of why olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which is regarded as the heart-healthiest diet, while coconut oil is not.

      Unsaturated fat

      When you dress a green salad in extra virgin olive oil, you’re getting mostly unsaturated fat – the kind you’ve probably heard called “good” or “healthy” fat. It’s the kind you also get from eating avocados and nuts.

      Research links eating unsaturated fat to a number of heart benefits, including some protection against inflammation, lower levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, and reduced blood pressure when they’re eaten in place of saturated fats.

      There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Olive oil contains mostly monounsaturated fat (about 10 or 11 grams per tablespoon, compared to coconut oil’s 1 gram per tablespoon).

      Polyunsaturated fats – which includes omega-3 and certain omega-6 fatty acids – are also beneficial for your heart. You’ll find these in fish, walnuts and flaxseeds.

      Saturated fat

      Coconut oil is much higher in saturated fat – one tablespoon has about 13 grams of saturated fat, compared to olive oil’s 1 gram.

      Saturated fat is not linked with heart health benefits. In fact, studies show that it may contribute to an increase in LD cholesterol, which ups your risk for heart disease.

      Some argue that saturated fat has also been shown to raise HDL (good) cholesterol, which maintains the right ratio of cholesterol levels. More research is needed.

      “We don’t recommend completely avoiding saturated fat, but we do recommend swapping them out for mono- or polyunsaturated fats when you can,” Patton says.

      Opt for less-processed oils

      With so many options on the grocery store shelf, it can be hard to know what’s best to buy. Generally, extra virgin or unrefined oils are the least processed and pack the most benefits.

      Extra virgin olive oil, for example, has more beneficial antioxidants than regular or light olive oil and is best used in dressings, dips and marinades. Be sure to keep it away from heat, light and air to preserve its quality. Refined olive oil has a more neutral flavor and makes for a better all-purpose cooking oil, but it contains fewer antioxidants.

      Coconut oil also comes in refined and unrefined varieties. Unrefined, or virgin, coconut oil has more antioxidants and a stronger coconut flavor than refined coconut oil, which undergoes more processing to neutralize the taste and make it more suitable for high-temperature cooking.

      Watch how much oil you’re consuming

      Remember, many of the other foods we eat have fat in them, so it’s important to control our intake of added fats like oils. “Even healthier oils like olive oil can add up quickly,” Patton says.

      Aim to keep your fat intake between 25%-35% of you daily calories, and to prioritize healthy unsaturated fats.

      It’s recommended that saturated fat – which comes not just from coconut oil but also from foods like meat, cheese and other dairy products – account for no more than 10% of your daily calories (or 6% if you have high cholesterol). That’s about 22 grams of saturated fat a day (or 13 grams, if you have high cholesterol) for someone who eats about 2,000 calories per day.

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      My suspicion is coconut oil is great in places where nutritional poverty causes people to die early (like India) because it provides calories. I suspect the reason it is bad in place like the US, Europe, wealthier places in SE Asia and Australia is that it is not calories that limit lifespan’s in such places. It is all the regular known “badies” for very long lifespans – i.e like the saturated fats in coconut oil. Horses for course. It may well stop you starving in parts of India, but it will probably kill you off early in places where less people starve to death..

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      Historically, dietary fats and oils have engendered considerable debate regarding type and optimal amounts used in the diet, their role in regulating body weight and their importance in the aetiology of chronic disease. 1 Despite the contentious issues surrounding dietary fats, they are considered essential nutrients because they are required to perform critical functions in the body including serving as a carrier of preformed fat-soluble vitamins, enhancing the bioavailability of fat-soluble micronutrients and providing essential substrate for the synthesis of metabolically active compounds (such as the steroid hormones, testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone) among other useful functions. These benefits of fats notwithstanding, diets that are high in fat are strongly associated with an increased prevalence of obesity and an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, and certain types of cancer. 2

      In Ghana, the prevalence of these chronic non-communicable diseases and their risk factors have increased over time and have contributed significantly to the Ghana's disease burden. 3 , 4

      Hypertension, stroke, diabetes and cancers have recently reported as being among the top 10 causes of death in the country. 4 Prevalence of hypertension currently stands at 13% 5 whereas the prevalence of diabetes and hyperlipidaemia in Accra and Kumasi, two major cities, are reported to be ranging between 4% – 9% and 17% – 23% respectively. 6 Since obesity is the forerunner of many of these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and consumption of dietary fats and oils in turn play a key role in the development of obesity, it is important to understand what roles these oils play in our diets, health and national development.

      In Africa, much of the fat content of traditional diets comes from plant oils such as red palm oil, groundnut oil, coconut oil and sesame oil. 7 Whole-grain cereals also contribute some oils to the diet, especially when the cereal germ is not separated from the grain before milling. Two of the most important edible oils in the sub-Saharan Africa, are coconut oil and palm oil. Along with palm kernel oil, they are often referred to collectively, as the tropical oils and are typically known to be rich in saturated fats.

      Palm oil, the oil obtained from the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) is one of the most widely used cooking oils in West African countries. 8

      Coconut oil obtained from the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera), also finds extensive use in tropical and subtropicals regions of the world for food and industrial purposes. The coconut oil traditionally produced in West Africa is made by crushing and pressing copra to extract the oils. This is done in large mills and the oil is freely available on the market. Palm kernel oil (which is not the focus of this article) is also produced by first cracking the palm kernel nuts either manually or mechanically, to separate the shells from the kernels. The kernels are then roasted and milled before the extraction of the oil. Berget 9 however notes that in Ghana and much of West Africa, palm kernel oil is not consumed locally as a food oil to any significant degree. Local uses are limited to lamp oil and a local soap industry 9 .

      DebMandal and Mandal 10 report that, in the United States, coconut oil was one of the major sources of dietary fats, aside from diary and animal fats, prior to the advent of the American edible oil industry in the 1940s. Despite the wide use of these tropical oils in less endowed countries, Enig 11 reports however that, the coconut oil industry has suffered more than three decades of abusive rhetoric from consumer activist groups and organisations such as Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the American Soybean Association (ASA) and other members of the edible oil industry, as well as from those in the medical and scientific community who learned their apparent misinformation from these groups. Needless to say, palm oil has suffered a similar fate. According to Chong and Ng 12 , the principal allegation levelled against palm oil is that it is a highly saturated fat and its consumption supposedly raises the levels of blood cholesterol, thereby increasing the risk of coronary heart disease.

      From the above, it is clear, that the saturated fat content of both coconut oil and palm oil have been the basis of the vilification campaigns against their use. Enig 11 traces the origins of the anti-saturated fat campaign to the late 1950s, when a researcher in Minnesota announced that the heart disease epidemic was being caused by hydrogenated vegetable fats. The edible oil industry's response at that time was to claim that it was only the saturated fat in the hydrogenated oils that was causing the problem. This was followed by various forms of anti-saturated fat/anti-tropical oils campaigns (from the 1960s through to the mid-1980s) by individual researchers, some multinational companies and even governmental agencies in the United States. Chong and Ng 12 however, noted that, the anti-palm oil (anti-tropical oil) campaigns in the United States were conducted more for economic gains than for genuine concerns of the health of the Americans. Sadly, this adverse publicity of tropical oil in the United States, has spread worldwide, even to countries in the developing world, with heart disease prevalence far lower than that of the United States.

      Furthermore, in the developing world, this adverse publicity is characterized by pressure from all fronts including governmental agencies and health professionals (including nutritionists) to reduce consumption of oils such as palm and coconut oils. It is true that the phenomenon of the 𠆍ouble burden of disease’ is assuming unprecedented proportions in the developing world and the incidence of chronic disease is increasing steadily and even catching up with figures from the developed world. However, this increase in chronic disease has been attributed more to the ‘westernization’ of diets rather than the consumption of tropical oils, since these fats have been the mainstay (of edible oils) in many developing countries (especially in West Africa) for centuries. This, dating back even to the period when chronic disease prevalence was extremely low. Rather, the vilification of coconut and palm oils may be contributing to a situation where there is increased food insecurity (because individuals feel pressured to switch to less affordable and so called ‘healthier’ oils) and decreased quality of the food supply. This has resulted subsequently in hunger in areas of the developing world where there is shortage of energy and nutrients.

      The aim of this paper is thus to contest the negative publicity that coconut and palm oils have suffered, via exploring their unique potential roles in the nutritional and health status of the less endowed peoples of the world, (particularly those from the West African Subregion), and in improving food security to enhance national development.

      Nutritional Profile and Metabolism of Dietary Fats — Palm and Coconut Oils in Perspective

      Fats and oils are concentrated forms of energy and the energy yield from the complete oxidation of fatty acids is about 9 kcal per gram, in comparison with about 4 kcal per gram for carbohydrates and proteins. Triglycerides, are the most abundant fats found in foods. They are molecules made of fatty acids (chain-like molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) linked in groups of three to a backbone of glycerol. When foods containing fats are consumed, the fatty acids are separated from their glycerol backbone during the process of digestion. Fats and oils in the diet are thus available to the body as fatty acids.

      Fatty acids differ from one another in two ways—in chain length and in the degree of saturation.

      With respect to degree of saturation, fatty acids can be classified as saturated (SFA), monounsaturated (MUFA) and poly-unsaturated (PUFA) fatty acids.

      Saturated fatty acids, or saturated fats, consist of fatty acids whose carbon chain is “saturated” with hydrogen. These fats are found primarily in foods of animal origin—meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs𠅊nd in coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils. High intake of saturated fats is associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease. 2

      Monounsaturated fatty acids are fatty acids that lack one pair of hydrogen atoms on their carbon chain. Foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids include canola, nut, and olive oils they are liquid at room temperature. A diet that provides the primary source of fat as monounsaturated fat (frequently in the form of olive oil) and includes only small amounts of animal products has been linked to a lower risk of coronary artery disease, 13

      Polyunsaturated fatty acids lack two or more pairs of hydrogen atoms on their carbon chain. Safflower, sunflower, sesame, corn, and soybean oil are among the rich sources of polyunsaturated fats (which are also liquid at room temperature).

      Trans fatty acids (TFAs) are another type of fatty acids, which are either naturally occurring or can be industrially produced in commercial quantities by a process known as hydrogenation. Hydrogenation involves the treatment of fats and oils with hydrogen gas in the presence of a catalyst resulting in the selective addition of hydrogen to the carbon to carbon double bonds. 13

      In industry, TFAs are created when vegetable oils (mainly the polyunsaturated oils) are partially hydrogenated to convert large numbers (typically 30�%) of naturally occurring cis unsaturated double bonds into trans unsaturated double bonds. 14 A high TFA content provides physical and chemical properties that are attractive to food manufacturers. 14 However, the consumption of these industrially produced partially hydrogenated vegetable oils is reported to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, infertility, endometriosis, gallstones, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and some cancers. 15 TFAs also occur naturally in dairy products and meats of ruminants, but it is reported that human consumption is generally low and there is evidence to suggest that it does not adversely affect health. 15

      The details of population dietary guidelines for the quality and quantity of fat intake differ between countries. However, in consideration of prevention of CHD, dietary guidelines generally reflect advice to reduce average total fat intakes to 30�% dietary energy and to lower saturated fat intakes to approximately 10% of dietary energy, 1 and consumption of trans fatty acids be as low as possible. 16

      Palm oil which is obtained from the mesocarp of the palm fruit, is composed of 50% saturated fatty acids, 40% monounsaturated fatty acids and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids. 8 The saturated fat components are trace amounts of lauric and myristic acids, and a large amount of palmitic acid (44%). 17 It is important to note then that, of the saturated fatty acids found in diet, lauric and myristic acids (found only in trace amounts in palm oil) have more potential to raise total and LDL cholesterol concentrations whilst palmitic acid (found in abundance in palm oil) is less potent in that regard. 1 Furthermore, palm oil is used directly in a variety of food processes without undergoing a hydrogenation process, in which some of the cis- double bonds are transformed to the trans-configuration. Therefore, it is worth noting that palm oil does not contain any trans- unsaturated fatty acid isomers. 8 Indeed, Sundram, Sambanthamurthi 17 have reported that, when palm oil is consumed as part of a low-fat diet (㰰% energy), it has been shown to be effective in maintaining desirable plasma cholesterol and lipoprotein cholesterol levels. The principal triglyceride species in palm oil have palmitic acid at the alphaposition of the molecule, and this location confers the non-hypercholesterolaemic property to the oil. 8

      When fat is eaten, it must first be digested before it can be absorbed through the intestinal wall. Most of the digestion of fat occurs in the upper part of the small intestine and is accomplished by special digestive enzymes called lipases which act on fat (triglycerides) that has been emulsified with the aid of bile acids. The lipases work by breaking the emulsified fat into smaller units. Some of the fat that is 𠇍igested” is broken down into individual fatty acids and glycerol whilst some is broken down into the special intermediate molecules called monoglycerides, which are made of glycerol with one remaining fatty acid still attached. These monoglycerides are absorbed as such. By the time some of these fatty acids monoglycerides and glycerol have travelled through the intestinal cell to the lymph stream, they are repackaged into triglycerides.

      The duration of fat digestion and absorption depend on the length of the fatty acid chain. The fatty acid chains can be classified into long chain fatty acids (LCFAs), medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). As indicated earlier in this review, in the past four decades misinformation and disinformation provided by certain politically biased agricultural groups and repeated in both the professional and lay press have led people to believe that all saturated fats are unhealthy. 18

      Little attention is focused on the fact that saturated fatty acids are not a single family of fats but comprise the three subgroups short- (C2�), medium- (C8�) and long- (C14�) chain fatty acids.

      The fat molecules that have long chain fatty acids (LCFAs) are ultimately transported by carriers in the lymph system called chylomicrons, which are manufactured in the intestinal cells for the purpose of transporting these exogenous fat molecules. The triglycerides are transported by the chylomicrons to the liver or to other tissues. Once those triglycerides (and their fatty acids) enter the cells, they are again broken apart into increasingly smaller units until they are formed into the final energy molecule called ATP. This is an oxidative process. Sometimes the oxidation takes place in the peroxisomes but will usually take place in the mitochondria. If the cells do not immediately need the energy molecule, the small units that have been formed are shunted into the synthesis of fatty acids, and then as triglycerides, they are stored in adipose tissue.

      The slow digestion of fat allows for the gradual release of energy so that there is no need for the liver and adipose tissue to synthesize fat. This slow digestion of fat also helps the body to absorb more of the nutrients that come along with the fat. The short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and most of the medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) molecules, on the other hand, go into the portal blood and are transported to the liver in much the same way that the carbohydrate goes to the liver. These short-chain and medium-chain fatty acid molecules also supply energy more rapidly like carbohydrates. The different absorption behaviour of the short and medium-chain fatty acids is exploited for dietetic purposes. Since they are not re-esterified inside the intestinal mucosa and are bound to and transported with albumin in the blood directly, they often represent the only option for fat absorption in patients whose fatty acid absorption mechanisms are defective. Furthermore, they have the advantage of being absorbed quantitatively in the intestinal lumen, even with reduced lipase activity. Herein lies the uniqueness of coconut oil. Coconut oil is made up of about 90% saturated fats and 9% unsaturated fats. However, the saturated fats in it differ from saturated fats in animal fats. Over 50% of the fats in coconut oil are medium chain fatty acids, such as lauric acid (12:0). Coconut oil is the highest natural source of lauric acid. Lauric acid and its derivative monolaurin constitute around 50% of coconut fat-derived lipid.

      However, unlike long chain fatty acids, these medium chain free fatty acids and monoglycerides are absorbed intact from the small intestine, and do not undergo degradation and re-esterification processes. They are directly used in the body to produce energy, and widely used in infant formulas, nutritional drinks for athletes and intravenous lipid infusions. 19

      Nutritional and Functional Properties of Coconut and Palm Oils — Roles in Enhancing Food and Nutrition Security

      The majority of undernourished people live in the developing economies. FAO 20 has reported that the proportion of undernourished people is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is estimated at 30 percent. Interestingly, many African countries who are still battling poverty, food insecurity, undernutrition, and infectious diseases including the HIV/AIDS epidemic are currently faced with increasing levels of overweight and obesity, leading to a coexistence of undernutrition and overnutrition with their attendant ramifications, popularly known as the 𠆍ouble burden of disease’. Prentice 21 partly attributes the emerging obesity phenomenon in Africa to the transformation of the range of goods sold in the village shops. Prominent among these are large yellow plastic containers of imported vegetable oils. Throughout Africa these oil containers are recycled as water carriers and have completely displaced the metal kerosene drums that used to fulfil this function, thus providing a vivid visual picture of this one key component of the nutrition transition.

      Palm and coconut oils possess remarkable nutritional and functional properties that can be employed to the advantage of the developing countries like Ghana. West African societies have a long history of recognizing palm oil as a nutritional haven — it has been used as a primary source of dietary fat as well as a remedy for illnesses. 22 Dietary fats are crucial sources of energy for particularly infants and children in developing countries, and palm oil plays a crucial role as it is commonly used in many stews, gravies and soups eaten with starchy staples in Ghana.

      Aside fats, the major nutrient which palm oil contributes to the diet, Wattanapenpaiboon and Wahlqvist 8 outline the following minor but nutritionally beneficial components of palm oil

      Palm oil contains α-, β- and γ-carotenes. These are precursors of vitamin A, which prevents night blindness, aids maintenance of tissues and promotes growth. In developing countries like Ghana where vitamin A deficiency is a major problem among both adults and children, using palm oil in meals in moderate amounts is a relatively affordable means of ensuring adequate vitamin A intake.

      Palm oil contains phytosterols such as sitosterol, stigmasterol and campesterol. These lipophilic sterols are easily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, and then converted through a series of enzymatic reactions into cholesterol, which is a major precursor of steroid hormones.

      Squalene, present in palm oil, when in excess amounts has been found to possess a negative feedback inhibition activity on the function of HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol in the liver. Thus, a moderate use of palm oil is likely to be beneficial for blood lipid profiles.

      Palm oil is rich in vitamin E, which is composed mainly of tocopherols and tocotrienols. These compounds act as potent antioxidants that make it relatively stable to oxidation. Both animal and human studies show that tocotrienols could reduce plasma cholesterol, apolipoprotein B, thromboxane B2, and platelet factor IV. They could also inhibit or delay the oxidative deterioration of cellular membranes. This makes palm oil protective against chronic conditions like cancer which is currently emerging in developing countries like Ghana.

      The above benefits notwithstanding, one recently identified drawback that could jeopardize the use of palm oil in developing countries such as Ghana is the adulteration of palm oil with the high levels of Sudan IV dye, a chemical reported to have carcinogenic potential. The Daily Graphic newspaper in Ghana reports the confiscation of large quantities of palm oil from several markets in Accra by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) following positive laboratory tests indicating their contamination with Sudan IV dye. 23 The FDA's regulatory measures if diligently pursued and sustained should hopefully curb this negative trend and thus prevent palm oil from being further maligned, this time, on account of its safety.

      Coconut oil has been shown to have the potential to protect against not only heart disease but a wide variety of chronic health problems including diabetes and cancer as well as a means to prevent and even treat infectious diseases, however, knowledge about coconut oil has been kept buried in medical journals because of a general prejudice against saturated fats. 24

      Coconut oil is composed of the fatty acids, caprylic acid C -8:0 (8%), capric acid, C-10:0,(7%), lauric acid C-12:0, (49%), myristic acid C-14:0(8%), palmitic acid C-16:0 (8%), stearic acid C-18:0 (2%), oleic acid C-18:1 (6%) and 2% of C-18:2 linoleic acid.

      DebMandal and Mandal 10 report that coconut oil is rich in medium chain saturated fatty acids (lauric acid) which allows them to be directly absorbed from the intestine and sent straight to the liver to be rapidly used for energy production and thus MCFAs do not participate in the biosynthesis and transport of cholesterol. This cardio-protective attribute of coconut oil can be taken advantage of by developing countries in West Africa that are grappling with the nutrition transition with its attendant upsurge of chronic diet-related diseases including obesity and heart disease. Fife 24 reports that in Sri Lanka, coconut had been the primary source of dietary fat for thousands of years. In 1978 the per capita consumption of coconut was equivalent to 120 nuts/year. At that time the country had one of the lowest heart disease rates in the world. Only one out of every 100,000 deaths was attributed to heart disease, whereas in the United States of America, where very little coconut was eaten and people relied more on polyunsaturated oils, the heart disease death rate at the same time was at least 280 times higher. As a result of the 𠆊nti-saturated fat’ campaign coconut consumption in Sri Lanka has declined since 1978. By 1991 per capita consumption had dropped to 90 nuts/year and has continued to fall. In place of coconut oil the people begun to eat more corn oil and other polyunsaturated vegetable oils. As coconut consumption decreased, heart disease rates increased in Sri Lanka and interestingly, the problem was greater in the urban cities 24 . This Sri-Lankan scenario could well be playing out in many developing countries in West Africa.

      DebMandal and Mandal 10 further report, that coconut oil is very effective against a variety of lipid-coated viruses such as visna virus, CMV, Epstein-Barr virus, influenza, virus, leukemia virus, pneumo virus and hepatitis C virus. The MCFA in coconut oil primarily destroys these organisms by disrupting their membranes, thus interfering with virus assembly and maturation. Control of infections is crucial on the health agenda of many developing countries in West Africa, and the use of coconut oil could serve as a cheaper alternative means of controlling infections.

      In West African diets, coconut and palm oils are often used for frying. When cooking oils are heated, reactions such as oxidation, hydrolysis, isomerisation and polymerisation occur, resulting in the formation of a variety of volatile compounds and monomeric and polymeric products 26 , 27 some of which are potentially toxic. 28 Some of these oxidised volatile products (eg acrolein and other α,β-unsaturated aldehydes) are known to be responsible for the off-flavour and negative effects on human health. 26 , 27

      This makes it important to highlight the attribute of the smoke point of these oils. The smoke point is the temperature at which a fat or oil produces a continuous wisp of smoke and is a useful indicator of an oil or fat's suitability for frying. 28

      A general rule is that, fats with a higher smoke point are better suited for deep frying, whilst fats with a smoke point below 200 ଌ are not. 27 The smoke point of unrefined palm oil is 235 ଌ whilst that of unrefined coconut oil is 177 ଌ. 29 In this light coconut oil is better suited for shallow frying, which is done at much lower temperatures, 28 whilst palm oil on the other hand is suitable for both deep and shallow frying. 30

      The smoke point is related to the free fatty acid content of oils, thus reheating (re-use) of oils is not recommended as used oils will contain a higher free-fatty acid content, with a consequent decrease in its original smoke point, which will result in higher emissions of volatile compounds at lower temperatures. 27

      Proper ventilation in kitchens is also beneficial in reducing the impact of these potentially toxic volatile compounds. 27 It is imperative for dietitians and nutritionists to be familiar with this attribute of the oils in order to better educate consumers on their appropriate use.

      Role of Palm Oil and Coconut Oil in National Development

      Agriculture employs 65 percent of the workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, the continued expansion of productive and high yield agriculture is essential for the reduction of poverty in Africa 31 and consequently the acceleration of national development. The production of palm and coconut oils hold promise and represent one of the most effective methods of hoisting developing nations like countries in Sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty, and ensuring food security.

      The large scale manufacture of these oils is sure to provide employment for millions of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. With respect to palm oil production in West Africa, Thompson, 31 reports that Nigeria is currently the third largest producer of palm oil in the world after Indonesia and Malaysia and palm oil production provides jobs for at least 1.8 million Nigerians.

      In spite of this impressive profile, Nigeria remains a net importer — its local production is not up to demand, thus Nigeria at present does not export palm oil. The local shortfall is being supplemented by imports from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. 31

      Nigeria thus remains the largest producer of palm oil in West Africa. Incidentally, Ghana, which also has a long history of palm oil production has apparently failed to take it beyond mere potential, due to the use of traditional methods of production coupled with the low quality of palm oil produced which could not make Ghana to meet up with the rising global and domestic demand. 31 The ministry of food and agriculture website also indicates that, palm oil production, based on small-scale production, was a leading foreign exchange earner for Ghana from about the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. 32

      Lessons from strides being made in the palm oil industry in Nigeria however indicate that, if developing economies including both Ghana and Nigeria, will focus some more resources on the sustainable production of palm oil, which is reported to give the highest yield of oil per unit of any crop 33 and is also associated with relatively low production costs, 31 it will be a highly effective means of alleviating poverty and accelerating development of our fledgling economies. Then we can join the ranks of nations like Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where palm oil is a major foreign exchange earner. 34 World Growth 34 further reports that globally, about 3 million smallholder families (equivalent to about 15 million people) are involved in the palm oil sector. This is a step in the right direction and will provide a means of livelihood for small holders who continue to make significant contributions to national development worldwide. Unfortunately whilst the palm oil industry is being taken advantage of for economic gains in some parts of the world, Ghanaian oil palm farmers are threatening to abandon the oil palm (whose products fuel palm oil production) and switch to cultivation of rubber and other cash crops. They cite lack of financial support from government and banks, lack of appropriate pricing for their commodity and no input subsidies or state-sponsored extension services. 35

      The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) of Malaysia, one of the largest producers of palm oil globally, have outlined some research and development goals intended to support the well-being of its oil palm industry as follows to improve the production efficiency and quality of palm oil, kernel oil and biomass products to expand and improve the current uses for oil palm products to find new uses for oil palm products as a substitute to promote the use, consumption and marketability of oil palm products and ensure that the oil palm industry is environmentally-friendly. 36

      Governments of developing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Ghana, will benefit immensely from emulating the Malaysian example and should work towards collaborating with relevant stakeholders to spearhead a thriving oil industry, which will ultimately result in accelerated national development.

      Coconut oil has always been known to the people of the Western Region of Ghana because of its immense contributions to individual households and communities. Almost every household particularly in ‘Nzemaland’ of that region, has something to do with coconut oil in one way or the other. Apart from using it to cook, coconutoil processing business has served as a major economic activity and generated employment for many.

      The Nzema youth association website report that research into small-scale coconut oil processing industries in the Axim District found out how families have improved their living standard as a result of their engagement in the coconut oil business. These contributions, notwithstanding, disease and neglect of the industry have continually dogged coconut plantations in the Nzemaland, thereby gradually limiting the ability of these processors to continue in business. 37

      The establishment and support of coconut plantations by government and the relevant stakeholders, will not only add to the total economic GDP of the country, but will invariably make a positive impact on the income of the citizens in the coconut growing areas as well as their diets, thereby contributing to improved health and standards of living.

      The nitty-gritty difference between "good" and "bad" cholesterol.

      Here's the deal. Cholesterol is not black and white, so classifying it as "good" or "bad" vastly oversimplifies this molecule, which helps synthesize vitamin D and hormones while maintaining cell structure among other duties. Some fats do raise cholesterol whereas others lower cholesterol. Yet even when saturated fat does raise your cholesterol, the type of cholesterol becomes more important than cholesterol itself.

      Studies show saturated fat raises LDL, yet it also raises HDL ("good" cholesterol). On the other hand, sugar lowers HDL. Ultimately, the ratio of total cholesterol to LDL cholesterol better predicts heart attacks than LDL on its own. Coconut oil can contain up to 40 percent saturated fat, yet interestingly, countries with the highest intakes of coconut oil have the lowest rates of heart disease.

      While some research shows coconut oil contains higher amounts of saturated fat and does increase total cholesterol, those amounts do not increase our heart attack or stroke risk. In fact, one study among lean, heart-disease- and stroke-free Pacific Islanders who consumed up to 63 percent of their calories from coconut fat found total cholesterol rose but so did their "good" HDL.

      Other studies find lipid profiles improve on high-fat diets containing coconut oil. Researchers found saturated fat from coconuts was not the culprit that negatively affected cholesterol profile. Instead, the coconut oil's overall effect raised HDL while lowering triglycerides and small LDL cholesterol particles, which is definitely a good thing.

      Coconut Farming

      According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, global demand for coconuts is growing at 10 percent a year. Most are grown by small-scale farmers across Asia Pacific and despite the growing coconut trade, many live in poverty or very basic conditions as the price they’re paid for their harvest is dictated by processors.

      As a response, many initiatives have been launched to help coconut growing communities prosper and farm in a sustainable way. If you have a favourite brand of coconut products, check out their website as many have details of their projects. Always look for a Fair Trade label as that should ensure farmers get a proper wage.

      Our Nutritionist Responds to Reader Comments on Coconut Oil

      We're breaking down your main assertions, and giving you our most well-informed responses.

      Last week, a bit of news gave us the chance to speak our truth (and it felt good!): Coconut oil is one health trend we’ve been ready to wave goodbye to since it first starting trending.

      We&aposve never really been sold on the benefits of the sat-fat heavy oil. While it&aposs okay (moderation in everything!) for adding a touch of flavor (to waffles, say), using it all the time just isn&apost a great idea. And we were glad when the American Heart Association agreed.

      Stay up to date on what healthy means now.

      Boy,਍id you have #feelings. Some of you agreed, some disagreed, and many of you had thought-provoking points to make. We read all the comments you posted𠅊nd loved hearing from you (#truth)! So when we saw this:

      . we thought "yaasss," let’s do it! We decided to give our Director of Nutrition,਋rierley Horton MS, RD, the opportunity to take some of the most popular or thought-provoking comments (all edited here, for clarity and concision) and offer her response. Thank you all for your comments𠅊nd keep them coming!

      BH: Great point, Karen. Genetics and family history play a significant role in your risk for developing heart disease, or other heart-related conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. But they&aposre not the only factors, which is why it&aposs important to eat well𠅎specially if you have a history of heart disease in your family!

      That. that&aposs true then. If you&aposre not consuming it, the saturated fat concerns don&apost apply. And some staffers and editors here say that’s their favorite way to use coconut oil—so by all means, enjoy!

      This is a great question! Both canned coconut milk and refrigerated coconut milk beverages are lower in calories and saturated fat than coconut oil.

      One tablespoon of canned coconut milk has about 30 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat. A cup of refrigerated coconut milk beverage has 20 calories and about 1 ½ grams of saturated fat. A tablespoon of coconut oil? It has 120 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat.

      That they do, William, that they do.

      But their paper was based on science, written by well-respected leaders in the medical and nutrition science industries, and published in a peer-reviewed journal. It wasn’t written by investors, sponsors, or donors. And they have a vested interest in providing information that will best help Americans decrease their risk of heart disease—there&aposs no reason to think that&aposs not what they&aposre doing here.

      We haven’t taken inventory of all of the AHA’s recommendations, but they do have recommendations for a healthy lifestyle and diet on their site. But we absolutely agree that the occasional treat is a must, even in the healthiest of diets.

      Eat the whole coconut (or at least the parts that are edible!) and you’ll get some fiber and protein with the fat, but eat just the coconut oil and all you’ll get is fat.

      Eat an apple and you’ll get fiber and good-for-you polyphenols. Drink the juice and you’re just getting (natural) sugar. So your analogy that coconut oil is like apple juice is fair, in that the whole food will give you more of the good stuff.

      You also make another good point—it doesn’t matter where the saturated fat comes from� it from coconut oil, a hamburger, a pastry, or ice cream—your body treats it the same way.


  1. Tor

    I think I've already read about it somewhere

  2. Eugene

    Brad why this

  3. Balin

    How many want.

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