Coconut oil. HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO CONVENTIONAL OILS?
By Paris Owen, Nutrition Student
Coconut oil is such a diverse product. You can use it for almost anything nowadays.. But should we be adding it into our diet?
WHAT IS COCONUT OIL?
Coconut oil is the fat component derived from matured coconut flesh. There are two different types of coconut oil on the market-refined and unrefined.
o Refined coconut oil is extracted from dried coconut flesh, called copra. This is then bleached to remove contaminants and deodorized to remove its coconutty odour and flavour. This type of oil is good for shallow pan frying as it has a higher smoke point than unrefined. This means that it can be heated to a higher temperature before the fat begins to degrade. Some then undergo further processing called hydrogenation. This type of oil (also known as confectionary fat 92) is used in a range of products from biscuits and cereals to makeup and moisturisers!
o Unrefined coconut oil is also called ‘virgin’ or ‘pure’ oil. It is extracted from fresh coconut flesh, which then undergoes either quick drying or wet milling. Quick drying is more common and involves (as the name states) quickly drying the flesh, where the oil is then pressed out. Wet milling involves extracting the oil from coconut milk though boiling, fermenting, centrifuge or the use of enzymes. This type of coconut oil is good if you want that coconutty flavour and works well in stirfrys, baking or as a replacement for butter in recipes.
NUTRITION IN COCONUT OIL
Want to take a stab at which one is better for you?! You guessed it. Unrefined is superior to refined as it contains natural antioxidants such as polyphenols. The concentration of polyphenols is actually quite high, being comparable to those in olive oil. Both types however contain the same ratio of fats with about 92% of those being saturated. This fat profile is quite different to tree nuts such as walnuts or almonds, which contain predominantly unsaturated fats.
WHAT DOES SATURATED AND UNSATURATED FAT MEAN?
A fat is classified as saturated or unsaturated according to its molecular structure. Without getting too nerdy- saturated fats have single bonds and unsaturated fats have double bonds. This allows saturated fats like coconut oil to be solid at room temperature (which is why it’s sold as a white solid mass) and unsaturated fats like olive oil to be liquid at room temperature.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
o Fatty meats
o Takeaway foods
Foods high in unsaturated fats include:
o Lean meats
o Tree nuts
ARE SATURATED FATS BAD FOR US?
Research shows that saturated fats negatively impact our cholesterol levels, placing us at a higher risk of developing heart disease. This however only applies to certain saturated fats composed of myristic and palmitic fatty acids. Palmitic has the greatest impact on raising our ‘bad’ cholesterol as it is widely present in our food including meat and plant oils. Majority of the fatty acids (45-48%) within coconut oil are called lauric acid. These fatty acids been shown to have a positive effect on the ratio of good:bad cholesterol in our blood, therefore lowering our risk of developing heart disease. A similar outcome is also seen when coconut oil replaces butter in our diet.
SO HOW DOES COCONUT OIL COMPARE TO OTHER OILS?
Although coconut oil has shown to have a beneficial effect on our ratio of good:bad cholesterol, this is shown improve even more when saturated fats are replaced with unsaturated fats. This is because unsaturated fats not only increase our ‘good’ cholesterol, but they also decrease our ‘bad’ cholesterol.
SHOULD YOU BE ADDING COCONUT OIL IN YOUR DIET?
Coconut oil is an OK addition to your diet. Although it doesn’t have the same negative impact on cholesterol levels as other sources of saturated fat, it isn’t superior to conventional unsaturated oils such as olive or flaxseed oil. Nevertheless, it can be used in a variety of dishes and it smells and tastes amazzzingg!
THE BEST WAYS TO USE COCONUT OIL IN YOUR DIET
o Coconut oil has shown to be more beneficial for cholesterol levels than butter. It can therefore be used as a suitable substitute for butter in recipes.
o It’s high smoke point makes it great for shallow frying.
o It works well in stirfrys, curries and baking.
o To get the most nutritional value, choose unrefined varieties so your getting the additional health benefits from the naturally occurring antioxidants.
Better yet, eat the coconut itself! That way you’re getting even more beneficial nutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fibre.
Hi fellow food lovers! My name is Paris Owen and I am currently undertaking a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Wollongong. I am also a university-qualified Nutritionist, graduating last year with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition. I work with Body Bloom, a women’s fitness training group, providing specialised sports nutrition advice and meal plans. Bondi Farmers Markets is where you will find me on Saturdays making nutritious goodies with an incredible team at the Inside Out Nutritious Goods stall.
I like to take an evidence-based approach for nutritional recommendations to ensure the best health outcomes for each unique individual. I also like to approach health in a holistic way incorporating physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. In the future, I will become an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, working in the public health system and eventually, in private practice. I am particularly interested in food allergies and intolerances and sports nutrition, however there are so many other areas I am yet to discover!
Jessica Lewis 2014, Types of Coconut Oil, Livestrong, viewed 24 November 2014, <http://www.livestrong.com/article/22890-types-coconut-oil/>.
Eyres, L 2014, Coconut Oil and The Heart, Heart Foundation New Zealand, viewed 24 November 2014, <http://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/uploads/Evidence_paper_coconut_August_2014.pdf>.
McMillan, J 2014, Coconut oil: Fab or Fad?, Dr. Joanna, weblog post, 29 April, viewed 25 November 2014, <https://www2.drjoanna.com.au/blog/coconut-oil-fab-or-fad-blog-229/>.