Coconut – love it or hate it?
My whole life I have LOVED coconut. In chocolates, in ambrosia, toasted (I mixed it in my butterscotch pudding pie), in macaroons, in Asian food, even mixed into my favorite flavored decaf coffee. I’m lucky to have married someone who also loves coconut as much as I do.
So when I discovered it to be thought of as a beneficial part of a paleo diet I decided all was right with the world. Then I decided I’d better do some research to make sure that I wasn’t going to mess up a good thing by adding it to my (thus far) successful new way of eating. I’d rather not overwhelm you or myself but swinging back and forth with all the pros and cons one finds on the web, and will share information from only three of the websites I’ve read this morning.
I’m sure the food industry in this country would rather we keep eating the food they have produced for decades, and have had my suspicions confirmed by the extremely limited research and tiny test group results reported in all the information I found on the web today. One report says the research was conducted using partially hydrogenated coconut oil – what?? Unless you’ve been in a coma this century you know that partially hydrogenated oils are the worst, most unhealthy oils you can put in your mouth. Talk about skewing your results on purpose. Also, there isn’t much recent data available – the sites I share with you below were written within the past 4 years.
What I understand, at this point, is that the coconut milk, made from processing the meat of the coconut to extract the oils which are then mixed with water, has a significant amount of saturated fat, specifically medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) that help contribute to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in our blood. HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol and helps to balance out the bad LDL (I find that saying the first L stands for Lousy helps me remember which is the good & bad). Some research is also finding that MCFA can have a positive influence on our metabolism. With obesity holding epidemic status in this country, it is a shame that there aren’t more deep pockets focused on getting the facts about how we could turn our health around with the foods we buy.
Another interesting bit of info I picked up today deals with medium-chain triglycerides connected with coconut milk. This one relates to sugar and how your body processes it. My triglyceride numbers have been unacceptable since my mid-20’s but not one of my doctors provided guidelines specific to this issue. I would think by now there would be more light shed on this condition and I’ve just added it to my personal research list.
Meanwhile, here are links to the three sites I mentioned, and I share these FYI. I hope you might have some enlightening sources you will share with me, as well.
One of the most prominent components of coconut milk is coconut oil, which the United States Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, International College of Nutrition, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, British National Health Service, and Dietitians of Canada recommend against consuming in significant amounts due to its high levels of saturated fat.
Coconut milk contains a large proportion of lauric acid, a saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol levels by increasing the amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol that is also found in significant amounts in breast milk and sebaceous gland secretions. This may create a more favorable blood cholesterol profile, though it is unclear if coconut oil may promote atherosclerosis through other pathways. Because much of the saturated fat of coconut oil is in the form of lauric acid, coconut oil may be a better alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil when solid fats are required. In addition, virgin coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides, which may not carry the same risks as other saturated fats. Early studies on the health effects of coconut oil used partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which creates trans fats, and not virgin coconut oil, which has a different health risk profile.
Coconut milk is rich in medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which the body processes differently than other saturated fats. MCFAs may help promote weight maintenance without raising cholesterol levels.
This article from the Los Angeles Times tells us that the jury is still out about the benefits of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) but you should not buy coconut milk in cans and that MCFAs may boost our metabolic rate:
This last link is to a site written by a doctor who deals with nutritional influence on health and illness and I may sign up for his newsletter:
I still plan to keep a half-gallon carton of coconut milk in my fridge for the variety is offers and I love the taste. I will use it in moderation and also ask my doctor to recommend a nutritional expert he feels can address some of my questions with up-to-the minute research data. I’ll get back to you on this one – promise!