Patricia Thompson – NUTRITION TALK
COCONUT OIL has been mislabelled as a ‘bad’ oil; so said nutritionist, Paul Johnson in his presentation at the technical meeting of the Jamaica Association of Professionals in Nutrition and Dietetics (JAPINAD) last Friday in Montego Bay.
Since the 1980s, a team at Harvard Medical School claimed that the experiments implicating coconut oil in causing heart disease were flawed. Although coconut oil does have saturated fat, the structure is of medium chain length fatty acids (MCT), which behave differently from the long chain fatty acids found in the saturated fat of meat. Medium chain fatty acids do not raise cholesterol levels in the blood.
Coconut oil does lack an essential fatty acid known as linoleic acid and when fed as the only source of fat to rabbits, it had negative effects. But this would happen with any diet that lacked linoleic acid whether or not coconut oil was used. By ensuring a mixture of fats that include linoleic acid, coconut oil as part of the balanced diet was not found to raise
Work has been done on other aspects of coconut oil at the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit (TMRU) of the University of the West Indies (UWI) by nutritionist, Dr. Dan Ramdath as a research student. He found that the malnourished children given a feeding supplemented with coconut oil instead of corn oil grew faster and made better recovery. This is because the medium chain fatty acids are more easily absorbed and utilised by the human body.
In addition, coconut oil does not increase the production of toxic, free radicals as occurs with the other vegetable oils, a phenomenon that was found to slow the recovery process of the children. These properties of coconut oil make it the most suitable oil for supplementing the energy content of the diet especially for HIV/AIDS patients who must combat
weight loss. Its absorption bypasses the regular processes needed by other fats and it goes straight to the liver so can be used by gall bladder patients without causing diarrhoea.
More recent work with coconut oil and AIDS indicates that there are anti-infective properties even in the jelly of the coconut that would also be of benefit in this condition. This would also have been a factor leading to the faster recovery of the malnourished children since viral infections often complicate their condition. The coconut also offers protection against muta-carcinogens that lead to cancer. The anti-viral effect is due largely to the MCT lauric acid and its derivative monolaurin, also found in breast milk.
Coconut oil can be heated to very high temperatures without burning the pot so it will not denature as happens with the polyunsaturated fatty acids of the other vegetable oils.
Coconut oil increases the shelf life of its products and if hydrogenated, will not produce trans fatty acids like the other vegetable oils, a factor implicated in increasing cholesterol levels. Moreover, if more than 10 per cent of the calories come from polyunsaturated fatty acids like soybean oil, this may increase the risk of various types of cancer. These
fats are prone to oxidation and will compromise vitamin E status.
Jamaicans can now revert to using coconut oil without fear of affecting cholesterol levels and be assured of other benefits.
Patricia Thompson M.Sc., Registered Nutritionist
published: Wednesday | September 10, 2003