What's the Deal with Coconut Oil?

Coconut Oil: Friend or Foe?Image reprinted with permission from www.coconutandberries.com and www.healthyaperture.com

Tropical oils (namely coconut oil and palm kernel oil) continue to grow in popularity as they become more mainstream options in the grocery store.  If you're looking for cooking-stable alternatives to traditional butter and shortening, coconut oil may be a great option for you.

These are very high in saturated fats (at about 92% saturated fat), so they must be treated this way in terms of planning your overall diet.  In other words, continue to try to keep them to about 7% of total caloric intake to stay within recommended guidelines to help reduce risk of heart disease. Here is that 7% of total calories translated into quantity of coconut oil (just remember this is for the entire day!):

  • 1500 kcal diet = 12g saturated fats = 1tbsp (3 tsp), 117 calories
  • 1800 kcal diet = 14g saturated fats = 3.5 tsp, 136 calories
  • 2200 kcal diet = 17g saturated fats = 4.75 tsp, 166 calories
  • 2600 kcal diet = 20g saturated fats = 5.5 tsp, 195 calories

Now that said, coconut oil consists of largely medium chain fatty acids and has a higher content of lauric acid than most other oils.  What this means for you is that the fats are more easily digested, and actually have a big impact on increasing HDL cholesterol, or the good cholesterol.  Don't be fooled though, because they increase LDL, or the bad cholesterol, as well but to a lesser degree.  This can actually improve the ratio of your good:bad cholesterol on your lipid panel.

I think we are going to see a rise in consumption of these as consumers (as well as possibly the FDA!) continue to move away from relying on hydrogenated oils for shelf-stability.  We will also continue to see the conversation morph on this topic because as these tropical oils become more popular, more research studies regarding health effects will be conducted, and more health organizations are going to add tropical oils to their formal recommendations.

My position: Friend when consumed in appropriate amounts.  Yeah, that moderation thing again.


And please click on the photo to be taken to a recipe for Apple and Raisin Oaty Breakfast Cookies.  Recipe discovered by clicking through the amazing site Healthy Aperture.

Top Ten Foods for Hearth Health

Regularly incorporating these ten foods into your menus and meal plans will help to keep your heart healthy.  Focusing on monounstaurated fatty acids help 'push cholesterol in the right directions' (increase HDL, the good cholesterol, and decrease LDL, the bad cholesterol).  Utilizing oils and nuts (as seen in the wonders of the Mediterranean diet studies) has been proven to help decrease incidence of heart attack and stroke.  

Combine that with a balanced selection of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and you have a potent combination.  All help increase fiber in the diet, which in turn helps control cholesterol.  Selecting whole grains over refined grains also assists in decreasing circulating fats (triglycerides).  And last but certainly not least, the fruits and vegetables provide a bevy of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Top Ten Foods that Love Your Heart

  1. Oatmeal
  2. Salmon
  3. Olive Oil
  4. Legumes
  5. Spinach
  6. Nuts
  7. Berries
  8. Avocado
  9. Flaxseed
  10. Soy


Food Trend: Chia Seeds

I've been getting questions recently on chia seeds and thought I'd brush everyone up on this new food trend.  Chia seeds are the new flaxseed.  They can be picked up at your local grocery store (or Trader Joe's/Whole Foods!) and are in fact the seed of those Chia Pets that became popular about 15-20 years ago.  

Chia seeds nutrient profile: 1 tablespoon contains 70 calories and the following...

  • 4.5 grams of unsaturated fats - the healthy ones that push cholesterol in the right directions, most of which are the omega-3s that help to fight inflammation in the body
  • 5.5 grams of soluble fiber - an excellent source of this fiber that helps slow carbohydrate absorption for longer, more even energy, helps fight cardiovascular disease, and aids in healthy digestion
  • 2 grams protein - although not packed with protein it is a high quality complete protein, making chia seeds a good additive to the diet for vegetarians and vegans
  • Enumerable antioxidants, and some vitamins and minerals (Calcium, Iron, Thiamine, Phosphorus, etc.)

I also found it fascinating that they are capable of forming a gel-like consistency as they are very hydrophilic.  At some point I'll have to experiment with using it in recipes as a fat-replacer and emulsifier.

Happy Chia-seeding!

Understanding Fats and Oils

The Basics

Understanding the world of fats and oils requires diving into a complex world.  People often find it daunting to determine exactly what's best and the glamorized media headlines with minimal data can be cause for confusion.  Here I hope to introduce a few of the basic terms, as well as to point out some things to look for so that shopping can become easier!   Photo courtesy of Turtle Dragon Herb and Tea

Fats, or lipids, come in solid or liquid form and are insoluble in water and are 9 calories per gram.  All fats have some combination of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, but it is the proportion of these that determine whether the whole is considered "saturated" or "unsaturated".  

Fats are essential to our system, as they help us break down and transport certain vitamins, make up the essential fatty acids that our body can't make on its own, maintain healthy skin and hair, and help regulate blood cholesterol levels, among other things.  It is their remarkable ability to store energy that has made them a modern day enemy.

Breaking it Down

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA) - Increase HDL, Decrease LDL

     Some examples: olive oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, olives, avocado, almond butter

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) - Decrease HDL, Decrease LDL

     Some examples: sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oils (vegetable oils)

Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA) - Increase/Maintain HDL, Increase LDL

     Some examples: full fat animal products (butter, dairy, meats), some processed foods

Trans Fats - Decrease HDL, Increase LDL

     Some examples: hydrogenated vegetable oils, rumen of cow/sheep

That's great but what does it all mean?  Well these four categories of fats are actually based on the various ways in which fats and oils regulate blood cholesterol.  HDLs are high-density lipoproteins, the "good" type of cholesterol because they transport excess cholesterol from the blood to the liver (where it is then removed from the body).  LDLs are low-density lipoproteins, the "bad" type of cholesterol because they are the primary transporters of cholesterol and can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.  

All in all... HDL good, LDL bad, which means MUFA good and Trans Fats bad.  

Some General Tips

It's important to first be armed with this knowledge on how fats and cholesterol works together since both play an important role in heart health.  The take home message is not to shift to eating only foods with MUFA, not only would that be very difficult to enjoy, but remember that fats are healthy for your system in moderation.  Instead focus on these tips:

  • Try to keep caloric intake of fats and oils at about 25-30% of total calories in the diet.  This means not exceeding 50g for 1500 calorie intake, 60 g for 1800 cal, 66 g for 2000 cal, and 83 for 2500 cal.
  • Read the labels of the foods you're buying!  Learn about whether saturated fat or trans fats are in these foods.  Especially look out for processed foods since we tend to think less about those at the time of purchase.
  • Since olive oil is made from a fruit, it is sensitive to air, heat, and light so store it in a dark glass or opaque container in a cool place.  If it has gone bad it will have a buttery flavor.
  • A lot of the spreadable butters now have a better composition than plain old butter so for toast or a baked potato try something like Olivio or Smart Balance.  Every small step helps.

All in All

Well that was a lot of information on fats and oils!  And only the tip of the iceberg...  I hope you can sit back and digest this information until we delve further into the topic.  Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns!