FW: COCONUT OIL IN THE PACIFIC
RobertH at spc.org.nc
Mon Mar 17 18:00:18 PST 1997
>Here in the Pacific there is much confusion about what nutrition advice
>should be given regarding coconuts. We really need the latest and best
>estimate/consensus on what quantities can be consumed and by whom and whether
>they should be avoided by those with heart disease, CVD or hypertension.
>What is the chemical structure of the average coconut oil? What proportion
>of those (harmful?) 14C triglycerides do they contain? Below is a short
>extract from the PIN newsletter. Feedback is most welcome.
>COCONUT FAT - GOOD OR NOT SO GOOD?
>Despite some claims that coconut fat may be linked to the development of
>heart diseases, the coconut is still the most useful and versatile food plant
>of the South Pacific. It is generally inexpensive, has many food and non-food
>uses and is an important staple in most atoll islands.
>The flesh of the young coconut provides a delicious snack, the juice a
>refreshing and nutritious drink, the trunk and leaves have multi-purpose
>household uses, and the flesh of the mature nut provides oils for cooking,
>and for domestic and commercial purposes.
>The controversial part of the nut lies in the oil extracted from the mature
>flesh. Some U.S. scientists believe it contributes to the development of
>heart problems. This stems from the fact that coconut fat is highly
>saturated, its chemical composition being approximately 91 percent saturated
>fat, 7 per cent mono-unsaturated fat and 2 per cent polyunsaturated fat.
>Saturated fats have been found to raise the blood cholesterol levels in the
>body. For this reason it has often been labelled a 'bad' fat.
>Coconut oil neither lowers nor raises blood cholesterol levels. This special
>neutral feature is due to the chemical composition of coconut oil. More than
>two thirds of the fatty acids in coconut oil are of medium chain lengths of
>8-12 carbon chains (C8-C12). Fats which are composed principally of
>medium-chain triglycerides do not raise blood cholesterol levels when taken
>as part of a normal diet consisting of a variety of foods every day. This is
>because medium chain fats are rapidly digested and used to provide energy for
>A team of researchers from the Harvard Medical School, USA, and the Food and
>Nutrition Research Institute in the Philippines, has been studying the
>effects of various fats, particularly coconut oil, on health since 1980. They
>feel that instead of its being a 'bad' oil it may have substantial health
>benefits, based on its chemical structure.
>Also, studies have now been done on coconut oil as a part of a diet which
>contains linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid which coconut lacks). The
>results do not show that it affects the hardening of the arteries any more
>than other vegetable oils, even those that are highly polyunsaturated.
>Studies in the Philippines, where coconut oil is six per cent of the dietary
>calories, show no relationship between consumption of coconut fat and
>diseases of the heart and blood vessels. When compared to the United States,
>where coconut oil provides less than one per cent of the dietary calories,
>the Philippines has a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease. More
>research is needed to analyse the effects of dietary fatty acids on human
>health, but findings so far have prevented the passage of a Bill in the U.S.
>House of Representatives in 1987 to label products with coconut oils and
>other tropical oils as having saturated fat.
>Additionally, coconut oil is being used therapeutically in some parts of the
>world as a high-calorie regime for the treatment of malnourished children.
>Given a choice of corn, peanut or coconut oil in this dietary treatment,
>physicians at the Tropical Metabolic Research Unit of the University of the
>West Indies preferred the use of a coconut oil because, they say, it is the
>least susceptible to oxidation.
>Coconut fat or oil is, then, a very useful food, but can it be eaten freely?
>We are all only too aware that too much of any type of fat (including coconut
>fat) can be harmful to health, as fats are high in energy, and high intakes
>of them can lead to overweight and obesity.
>Coconuts are normally eaten together with a variety of other foods in the
>Pacific. For example, coconut cream added to green leafy vegetables and
>starchy staples enhances flavour and taste. The fats also assist in the
>digestion and utilisation of fat-soluble vitamins. Used this way, they do not
>pose a problem in the diet. However, if the total diet is high in other
>saturated fats from animal sources, then the total fat content of the diet
>could be too high and contribute to the rise in blood cholesterol levels in
>Nutritionist/Non-Communicable Disease Epidemiologist
>South Pacific Commission
>PO Box D5
>98848 Noumea Cedex
>Ph. (687) 26 00 00 ext 245
>fax (687) 26 38 18
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