We had a good response to the last article on coconut oil! The responses actually had us (mainly Lora!) doing even more digging into what we know and don’t know about coconut oil, it’s composition and how different fats break down in the body.
I think it’s important to remember that there are times that we do not know the answer. In those times, we have to make our most educated “best guess” and move on. My choice might not be your choice. That’s ok. We don’t have to spend all our energy trying to convince others that our way is the “right way” for everyone. Try not to add any more anxiety or guilt to anyone else’s choices. Especially when it comes to food. We already have a serious problem with people being a bit too obsessed over their food choices.
There’s actually a new term I’ve seen over the last few months called “orthorexia“, which is being overly preoccupied with the nutritional make-up of the foods you eat. That is a topic for another post, but please remember that what’s most important is to eat lots of plants (fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds). That really is the bottom line. These nit picky choices over what type of fat to use, or which sugar is the worst or whether you should eat organic or GMO or not are honestly not the most important!
What’s important is that you put the plants on your plate, on your fork, into your mouth and swallow!!! Then you just MOVE ON to the rest of your life! Woah – can you tell this is my soapbox? Stepping down now. 😉
Coconut Oil Q&A Part 2!
In case you missed part 1, here’s the link: Q&A: Since coconut oil is high in saturated fat, should I just avoid it?
I feel like the most important thing with fats and anything else is variety and moderation and the fact that there are no superfoods! There’s nothing particularly magical about coconut oil. Unfortunately, it seems the only qualification needed these days to give out health advice is a computer and internet access.
Regarding the type of saturated fat and whether our bodies metabolize it differently, we did some more reading. Coconut oil is unique in that it also contains a high percentage of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), which are handled differently than long chain fatty acids within the body. MCFA are absorbed easily and are thought to be more preferentially burned than stored, which is why coconut oil is researched for its possible weight loss benefits. However, this claim still has not been proven conclusively.
Remember this: Even if coconut oil is a healthier fat and the body efficiently “burns” it, over consumption of any macronutrient beyond the body’s energy needs results in fat storage. So even if you are eating a “healthier” fat, if you eat too much of it your body is going to store the extra!
Some of the “advice givers” that advocate for the sole use of coconut oil also make claims about the health and safety of other vegetable oils. A common claim is that vegetable oils, like canola and olive oil, are oxidized by light if left in clear bottles, making them dangerous to health. Oils will become rancid when exposed to heat, light, and air. This is why it is recommended that oils are stored in a cool, dark place. However this is not a huge concern for the refined vegetable oils that most consumers use because they are more stable. The refining process helps to stabilize the oils.
Another claim is that cooking vegetable oils causes a production of dangerous free radicals that can damage cells in our bodies. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry looking at the effect of heating olive oil on its nutrient composition found that olive oil was not only resistant to oxidation when heated, but most of the health promoting compounds found in olive oil remained somewhat constant with heating. The study heated the olive oil 350 degrees for 36 hours. Most of the effects of oxidation and nutrient degradation were measured after 2-4 hours of heating, which is not how the average consumer uses olive oil.
When used properly, vegetable oils are safe options that provide key nutrients to your diet. Store oils as stated on the bottle and throw them out after their expiration date has passed. The concerns mentioned highlight the importance of choosing an oil that is best suited for the cooking you are doing.
If you are going to fry foods at a high temperature, choose a more stable oil like canola, or even coconut oil, rather than olive oil, and don’t cook in the same oil over and over again. The key to a healthy diet is moderation and variety. Any article that claims one single food can prevent a whole host of health conditions should be taken with a grain of salt.
How Heating Affects Extra Virgin Olive Oil Quality Indexes and Chemical
Composition. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2007;55:9646-9654
- Nagoa. Medium-chain fatty acids: Functional lipids for the
prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Pharmacological Research 61
Renee Matschkal says
Is your Email subscription only for USA – I am in Quebec and cannot subscribe because my postal code has 6 digits.
Julie Lanford MPH, RD, CSO, LDN says
Nope! Anyone can subscribe! FYI (don’t tell anyone…) you actually don’t have to enter the zipcode. But it’s helpful if people do. You can just leave it blank. 🙂 Julie