Feb 26, 2013

Tropical Oils… what I didn’t know.

I will be the first to admit when I’ve been misinformed. And boy, was I. In particular about coconut oil. I always thought (through reading about it online and various other sources) that coconut oil was a “friendly fat.” Is there such a thing? Well, no, not as such. The oils that are present in whole foods are the only ones that I can call friendly anymore… nuts, seeds, avocados. Because when you strip away the oil from the whole food, you’re left with a whole lot of calories and about zero nutrients.

I have excerpted some words of wisdom from my friend, Dr. Fuhrman, below. He is replying to a post someone left on his blog, DiseaseProof.com I hope you will take the time to read what he has to say. The long and short of the heretofore perplexing subject of fats is… eat the whole food. You want the health benefits of lauric acid? Eat a coconut! Not just the oil…

If you’ve been reading my posts since I started this blog, you will have seen that I used coconut oil (in small amounts) sometimes for sautéing, etc. It will be a tedious process, but I will be going through each recipe and substituting olive oil, which is lower in saturated fat.

      “While Americans still think some balance of fat, carbohydrate and protein is better or worse, they missed the main point that it is not the balance of macronutrients (calorie containing nutrients) that is critical, but the lack of micronutrients (phytochemicals, antioxidants, minerals and other factors) that are the main cause of disease. We need to eat less fat, but most of the fat we do eat should be high in nutrients; we need to eat less protein, but most of the protein we do eat should be high in nutrients; and we need to eat less carbohydrate, but most of the carbohydrate we do eat should be high in nutrients. Natural foods are the answer, not juggling macronutrients. And oils, which have the vast majority of their nutrients removed, [are] called processed foods or junk food. That means they are calorie-rich, but nutrient-poor. All oil is 120 calories per tablespoon and those calories add up fast in an overweight nation already over-consuming calories.

      “Almost all raw nuts and seeds are rich in micronutrients and protective food substances. They are not just a fat source, and they are also rich in plant proteins with favorable effects. We should aim to meet our requirements for both short and long-chain omega-3’s, but it is healthy, not unhealthy, to get most of your fat intake from foods such as almonds and sunflower seeds which are rich in mono and polyunsaturared fats and micronutrient powerhouses, instead of extracted oils and animal products, which do not have comparable micronutrient density. This has already been well documented. It is good to consume a little ground flax seeds and walnuts daily because they are rich in those omega-3 fats that are otherwise low in the American diet that is overly rich in animal products (largely omega-6 and saturated fats). 

      “All tropical oils (palm and coconut) are highly saturated fats. Like butter, cheese, and meat, tropical oils raise LDL cholesterol and clog arteries with plaque, increasing your risk of a heart attack. We use coconut oil (because it is so highly saturated) in animal experiments to create atherosclerotic plaque for studying heart disease in animals. There are different kinds of saturated fats with different impact on LDL cholesterol levels. One long-chain sat fat, stearic acid, has little impact on LDL cholesterol. But other long-chain saturated fatty acids, like the ones that make up most of the saturated fat in coconut and palm oils (known as tropical oils), do in fact raise LDL cholesterol considerably. These saturated fats are called palmitic, myristic, and lauric acids. They also make up most of the saturated fatty acids in meat, poultry, and dairy fats like milk and cheese. Other saturated fats that have little impact on LDL cholesterol levels include medium-chain varieties like caproic, caprylic, and capic acids. A small percentage of the saturated fat in coconut oil, about 10%, is made up of these less harmful saturated fatty acids, but virtually all the rest of coconut oil’s saturated fat is made up of the long-chain varieties that raise LDL.

      “Coconut oil is getting promoted on the web, internet and even the health food industry, claiming it’s healthy because most of its fat is made up of medium chain fatty acids (MCT), which are metabolized differently. Yes, it is true that a small portion of coconut oil is MCT (C-6 to C-10 fatty acids) and these do get oxidized more quickly and have little impact on LDL-C levels. However, because the vast majority of saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are the longer chain fatty acids, C-12 to C-16 (lauric, myristic and palmitic acids) it does in fact elevate LDL-C. The idea that MCT fats will induce weight loss or detoxify the liver is an example of alternative nonsense at its highest level. Coconut oil is 92% saturated, making it more saturated than butter, beef tallow, or even lard. Palm oil, though it contains less saturated fat (50%), is full of a type of saturated fat, palmitic acid, which appears to be most conducive to heart disease.

      “You just can’t believe everything you read on the internet.  The coconut oil industry likes to point out that the traditional Polynesian diet – high in tropical oils like coconut – is linked with relatively low rates of heart disease. However, it’s important to remember that heart disease involves multiple variables. It is not all fat. The high consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish and the low consumption of cheese and beef obviously are critical in studies of people on traditional Polynesian diets with low rates [of] heart disease. To attribute the benefit to consuming coconut oil is very deceptive and a clear marketing ploy. I for one am not claiming that eating coconuts is unhealthy in the context of an otherwise healthy diet or that a little saturated fat is so deadly, rather it is the low level of micronutrients, eating a diet rich in processed foods such as oil and the high consumption of animal products that shifts natural plant food off our plate that are key. But anyone that claims coconut oil is a health food, or good quality butter is good for you, is clearly not someone you should trust with your health.”

Post Script…  “I just went to www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/ our government’s web analysis tool and analyzed plain coconut oil for you guys and added up the numbers including the fractions so it would be exact. 100 grams of coconut oil contains 86.5 percent (grams) of saturated fat. It contains 14.1 (percent) grams of 6-10 chain (medium chain) saturated fats and 5.8 grams of monounsaturated fat. So it is most accurate to call it about 14 percent [of] those less harmfull MCT saturated fats (a relatively small amount) that these greasy coconut oil sales people hype up as the magic wonder part. Of course don’t forget, even though I have said this hundreds of times here already–> the extracted oil contains less than one tenth of nature’s valuable nutrients than the same amount of calories obtained from the whole food (coconut). When you eat more of the whole food and less oil, you increase the nutrient density of your diet. When you substitute oil for the nut, you dilute the nutrient density of your diet. I mix whole raw nuts into dressing recipes where others might use oil and the taste is even better and you gain nutritional benefits in the process.”

~ Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
Healthy trails!

2 responses to “Tropical Oils… what I didn’t know.”

  1. Sarah Jones says:

    I like your recipes but this article is oversimplifying the LDL issue at best. The good Dr. is over looking the important point that not all LDL cholesterol are the artery clogging killers we've been misled to believe. If one can avoid oxidation of cholesterol via oils with a low smoke point, anything cooked in canola or vegetable oil, then there's not really anything to fear from fats. In fact, butter from grassfed cows lowers inflammation b/c of it's Omega 3/6 ratios. Sugar and stress are the real killers, not cholesterol.

  2. Helyn says:

    Interesting info! I sure do agree about the sugars and stress. Dr. Fuhrman usually bases his findings on meta-analyses which I why I tend to agree with his findings. I try to avoid most added oils anyway due to their high caloric load and low nutrient content. Can you direct me to the studies that support this data, esp. about butter from grass-fed cows? Thanks for the comment, Sarah!

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