Wellness notes: Coconut oil to the rescue

  • Updated: December 7, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Coconut oil to the rescue

Coconut oil is returning to the kitchen, thanks to a boost from those in the nutrition business who have taken a fresh look at the numbers.

Those numbers, according to an article in Today’s Dietitian, show the fat in coconut oil might raise “good” HDL cholesterol and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol while also burning body fat rather than storing it.

“Some research has shown that increased coconut oil consumption leads to reduced cholesterol production, less oxidation [hardening] of LDL cholesterol and better ability to break up blood clots,” says dietitian Laura Brieser-Smith.

For those who avoid animal products, such as vegetarians and vegans, using coconut oil is becoming popular.

“If you’re going to fry something, extra-virgin coconut oil is the best vegan medium for it,” says Alan Roettinger, author of “Extraordinary Vegan.”

Some supporters say the flavor is a big attraction.

However, Patricia Kulbeth, a clinical dietitian at Memorial Health System Outpatient Nutrition Services, is cautious about coconut oil use.

“Coconut oil is still a fat and should not be excessively used,” she says. Kulbeth’s point is that too much of any fat in the diet can cause weight gain and contribute to diabetes and heart disease.

Marleen Swanson, a dietitian and department chair of culinary nutrition at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, is also cautious about coconut oil’s role in the diet. “Basically, it still is a saturated fat and needs to be regarded as such,” she says. “It has gotten rave reviews of late because of the vegan diet. Certainly, it fits as a spread in place of butter for these people, but it’s still a saturated fat. The one pro of coconut oil is that it is a medium-chain fat that is more easily absorbed in the body.”

Kulbeth remains skeptical.

“Even though the type of saturated fats in coconut is medium-chain and is purported to be healthier, it is still not as healthy a type of fat as is olive oil or other high mono- and polyunsaturated fats,” she said. “It is my opinion that coconut milk or coconut oil should not be used as a main part of the fat intake in the diets but could be used along with other healthier oils as part of a healthy diet.”

Her rule of thumb is that calories from fat should not be more than 30 percent of your total daily intake of calories.

Here are some more numbers to keep in mind: One tablespoon of coconut oil contains 117 calories, 14 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat and no vitamins or minerals.

The Gazette

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