COCONUT OIL – THE NEW “IT” GIRL?

Coconuts whole and halved on a graduated blue studio background

Coconut oil is the latest ‘it girl’ in the food world. It has been touted as being able to:

  • reduce the risk of heart disease
  • speed up metabolism and increase satiety thus helping with weight loss
  • reverse Alzheimer’s Disease

However, many of these claims are anecdotal. Large randomized controlled studies, the gold standard of scientific research, are still needed to prove these claims with any certainty.

Coconut oil is a largely saturated fat, 92% saturated, compared to butter which is 60% saturated or lard at 40%. Saturated fat has been a big “no no” as it can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. However, the majority of fats in coconut oil are called medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). MCFA are metabolized differently than long chain fatty acids that are contained in other saturated fats like butter and animal fats. The results are that it does not raise cholesterol to the same extent as butter. One study found that although coconut oil does raise LDL it also raises HDL (the good cholesterol) at the same time.

olive oil

Although some benefits exist, coconut oil is still a saturated fat which should be eaten in moderation. It may be one step up from butter; however, it does not compare to the well- studied beneficial effects of olive oil on cardiovascular health. Olive oil, by comparison, decreases total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and the LDL-HDL ratio. It is high in anti-oxidants that help neutralize free radicals that can damage cells that line our blood vessels. It has also been shown to reduce blood pressure. It is clearly a better choice than coconut oil. For an interesting point by point comparison of olive oil vs coconut oil click here.

The belief that coconut oil may aid in weight loss is based upon the unique way it is metabolized in the body. Unlike long-chain fatty acids (LCFA), MCFA are absorbed into the blood stream and delivered directly to the liver to be metabolized into energy.  MCFA are not stored in fat cells as readily as LCFA. This can be helpful, particularly for an endurance athlete who is looking for alternative sources of energy to keep fuelled up throughout an event.

However, to date there is no hard scientific evidence that substituting coconut oil, in particular, for other fatty acids leads to significant weight loss. Coconut oil is still a fat that contains 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories for protein or carbohydrates. Eating too many calories in any form will lead to weight gain be that from coconut oil, butter or lard.

A blend of MCFA, called caprylidene, was used in a small study on Alzheimer’s patients that did show improved results on cognitive scores. This lead to the production and marketing of caprylidene as a medical food called Axona. Axona is only available by prescription and the cost can be prohibitive for some. Therefore, many have turned to coconut oil in order to save money with the hopes that its blend of MCFA will have a similar effect. Reports that coconut oil are beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients are, at this stage, purely anecdotal as no study has yet to be completed that shows coconut oil can also improve cognitive scores in Alzheimer’s patients. Studies are, however, currently been carried out the results of which should be available towards the end of 2014. So for now, watch this space.

The Bottom Line

Coconut has a wonderful flavour and there’s no problem using it occasionally, especially in place of butter or lard.  However, don’t trade in your tin of extra virgin olive oil for a container of coconut oil just yet.  The monounsaturated fatty acids of olive oil have again and again proven to provide superior health benefits to those of the newly Woman applying cream to shoulderpopular coconut oil.

One sure fire way to get the most from your coconut oil is to spread it on your skin! Lauric acid, the primary fatty acid in coconut oil, has been proven to be an effective emollient as it smoothes the skin by filling in the spaces between skin cells.

References

 Mensink, Zock et al. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr May 2003vol. 77 no. 5 1146-1155

Bondia-Pons I, Schroder H, Covas MI et al. Moderate consumption of olive oil by healthy European men reduces systolic blood pressure in non-Mediterranean participants. J Nutr. 2007 Jan;137(1):84-87. 2007. PMID:17182805. 2007.

Castaner O, Fito M, Lopez-Sabater MC et al. The effect of olive oil polyphenols on antibodies against oxidized LDL. A randomized clinical trial. Clin Nutr. 2011 Mar 2. 2011. 

Covas MI, de la Torre K, Farre-Albaladejo M et al. Postprandial LDL phenolic content and LDL oxidation are modulated by olive oil phenolic compounds in humans. Free Radic Biol Med. 2006 Feb 15;40(4):608-16. Epub 2005 Oct 18. 2006. PMID:16458191. 2006.

Ruiz-Canela M and Martinez-Gonzalez MA. Olive oil in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Maturitas. 2011 Mar;68(3):245-50. Epub 2011 Jan 8. 2011.

Sharma A, Bemis M, Desilets AR. Role of Medium Chain Triglycerides (Axona(R)) in the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen. 2014 Jan 9. 

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Reinventing Broccoli

woman eating broccoli floret with fork

Broccoli can be a divisive vegetable. Some love it, others, do not.  If you fall into the latter category, here are 3 reasons to try this nutritious crucifer again. If they don’t persuade you, try recreating broccoli with the delicious recipes below.

WHY EAT BROCCOLI?

1. Broccoli Can Help Reduce Risk of Osteoporosis

Broccoli is high in vitamin K and is also a source of calcium. Vitamin K plays a critical role in activating a hormone called osteocalcin. Osteocalcin allows for the binding of calcium to the bone matrix which helps develop and maintain a strong, dense skeleton.

2. Broccoli is Good For the Heart

Broccoli is good for your heart in multiple ways. First off, it is a great source of folate. Folate is required to metabolize the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are an independent risk factor  for heart disease.  Folate is involved in converting damaging homocysteine into innocuous methionine.Heart shaped symbol with cogs and gears - love or cardiology concept

For every 10 calories of broccoli you receive 1 gram of fibre, that is a fantastic ratio. The fibre in broccoli, especially lightly cooked broccoli, binds to our cholesterol-filled bile acids and removes them from our body.  Our liver must, therefore, draw on our existing supply of cholesterol to make more bile. The net result, is that broccoli can lower our cholesterol levels.

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates which are sulfur-containing compounds with anti-inflammatory (and anti-cancer) properties. Chronic inflammation is thought to be a causative factor in heart disease.

Finally, broccoli provides a good dose of antioxidants in the form of vitamin C, beta-carotene, other carotenoids, and quercitin. These antioxidants help lower oxidative stress within the body which is another risk factor for heart disease.

3. Broccoli Can Help Regulate Blood Sugar

Broccoli is also an excellent source of chromium. As many as 90% of North Americans may be low in chromium. Chromium enhances the role of insulin in driving blood sugar out of our blood and into our cells.  It may help those with diabetes lower their circulating blood glucose levels.

Low chromium levels can have deleterious effects on the body, such as, increasing blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels, thereby raising one’s risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

So that’s why broccoli is good for us. But who really cares unless it tastes good, right? If you usually avoid this delightful green veggie; I challenge you to try the recipes below and see if I can’t turn you from a broccoli-skeptic into a broccoli-phile.

FOR THE GARLIC LOVERS:

BROCCOLI WITH ANCHOVIES & LOTS OF GARLICphoto (2)

Serves 2 as a main and 4 as a side

  • 1-2 heads of broccoli
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 tin of anchovies
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Red pepper flakes (to taste)

Preparation

Crush garlic and let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut the broccoli into florets and slice the stem. Sauté in pan with olive oil for 2- 3minutes. Add anchovies, garlic and red pepper flakes and stir frequently. Breakdown the anchovies with the back of your spoon. Add a splash of water or white wine to deglaze the pan and cover with lid so broccoli can steam for 2 minutes or until is broccoli tender but not mushy.

If serving as a main course, add a half cup of your favourite whole grain like quinoa, wild rice, millet or lentils also work well in this dish.

FOR THE SPICE LOVER:

BROCCOLI CHICK PEAS & ITALIAN TURKEY SAUSAGES

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 heads broccoli
  • 4 hot Italian turkey sausages
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • ¼ cup of white wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, drained
  • 1-  375 ml can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley

Preparation

Cook sausages under grill, turning frequently until cooked through. In the meantime, mince garlic and let rest. Cut the broccoli into florets and slice the stem (leave the last few inches of the stem as it will get very fibrous and woody).

Add olive oil and diced onion to pan and sauté over medium heat until onion becomes translucent, about 2 minutes.  Add crushed garlic and broccoli stirring frequently for 2 minutes. Add white wine and tomatoes. Partially cover pan and cook until broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes.  Cut cooked sausages into bite size pieces and add to pan along with chickpeas to heat through. Serve with chopped flat leaf parsley.

FOR THE SOUP (& CHEESE) LOVERS:

 

BROCCOLI & STILTON SOUPBowl of Broccoli and Stilton Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, sliced
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups of low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 head broccoli, roughly chopped
  •  2 ounces Stilton, crumbled (or substitute cheddar or mild cheese if serving to children)

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan and then add the onions. Cook on a medium heat until soft. Add a splash of water or white wine if the onions start to catch. Add the celery, leek and diced potato. Stir, then cover with a lid for about 5 minutes.

Pour in the stock and add broccoli stems only (not the florets). Cook for about 10 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft. Add the rest of the broccoli and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon remove a handful of florets to keep whole for garnish. Carefully transfer the rest of soup to a blender and blitz until smooth. Pour into serving bowls and crumble the Stilton and florets on top. Substitute with your own favourite cheese if Stilton is not a favourite.  Season with black pepper (if desired) and serve.

 

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