I'm staring at a really cute picture of my granddaughter and I smile. I shuffle
through other pictures on my computer and smile again at the coconut-covered
bunny cake I made for Easter. And I wonder _ based on what we know and don't
know about coconut fat _ do I embrace or kiss my coconut friend goodbye?
Probably neither, according to a variety of reputable sources.
Here are some facts:
According to the Library of Congress, a coconut is a fruit that covers a seed
(like a peach or an olive), affectionately called a "drupe."
Most (almost 90 percent) of the oil derived from coconuts is the saturated
variety _ the type of fat that tends to raise blood cholesterol levels in
About 46 percent of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a "medium chain"
length fatty acid that raises the good "HDL" cholesterol levels in the blood as
well as the "bad" LDL levels. This is why some believe coconut oil may be
beneficial for heart health. But wait ...
Another one-third (about 30 percent) of the fat in coconut oil is composed of
myristic and palmitic acids _ considered to be detrimental saturated fats in
terms of their affect on serum cholesterol levels.
A small percentage (about 3 percent) of the fat in coconut oil is stearic acid _
a "neutral" saturated fat that tends to be neither good or bad for blood
cholesterol levels. (By the way, about a third of the saturated fat in beef and
cocoa butter is the neutral stearic acid as well.)
Coconut oil also contains a small percentage (about 9 percent) of healthful
"unsaturated" fats (oleic and linoleic fatty acids) that are also found in
abundance in oils such as canola and olive oil.
Food labels clump all the saturated fat content of a food into one category _
the healthful as well as the beneficial. And herein lies the confusion.
For example, even olive oil _ considered a "good" fat _ contains a small
percentage of palmitic acid _ a saturated fat that can be detrimental to blood
cholesterol levels. And lean beef _ often considered a source of "bad" fat _
actually contains a lower percentage of detrimental palmitic and myristic fatty
acids (about 25 percent) than does coconut oil (30 percent).
Still, there remains strong evidence that populations of people who eat a diet
high in saturated fat have a higher rate of diseases of the heart. And in
general, when saturated fat intake increases, so does bad LDL cholesterol.
As for coconut oil, experts from the University of California, Berkeley Wellness
Center conclude: "You should limit these oils since their effects on cholesterol
are not fully understood. You can use coconut oil in cooking on occasion if you
like the flavor. Vegetable oils such as canola, olive, soy, or safflower are
recommended for day-to-day use, however."
Alas, in terms of heart disease, coconut oil may not be the "miracle fat" some
had hoped for. And we are wise to remember that various mixtures of "good' and
"bad" exist in all foods. That said, Mr. Bunny cake is here to stay...but only
for special occasions.
(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the
Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c)2013 The Monterey County Herald
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