Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is Going Coconuts a Good Thing?

Please enjoy another guest post from my summer intern, Maggie!

Be Extraordinary,


You are jogging in the sand as a salty breeze blows through your hair and turquoise waves dance at your feet. As you look up at the morning sun you see a palm tree decorated with coconuts in the distance making you wonder exactly how good for you they might be. Ah yes, the newest player in the health food arena with a high saturated fat content and an intoxicating aroma. Unfortunately, most of us did not have a revelation about the mighty coconut somewhere along the Pacific Ocean, where islanders cherish it as a diet staple and an essential part of their culture. Chances are you have seen it pop up in your local grocery store or have been bombarded with conflicting claims that it can have miraculous properties and even boost weight loss - among other health-enhancing attributes. Yes, it may have always been in our soaps, creams and lotions but does it belong in the kitchen too? Many athletes have used coconut water to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes but does the oil make the mark as a sports food supplement?

Well as it turns out, the truth is in the details. This plant-based saturated fat has a unique make-up of mostly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). According to the Harvard School of Public Health, these triglycerides do not elevate undesirable LDL cholesterol, like long-chain triglycerides found in meat and butter. However there is no evidence to suggest that they increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind, the body needs). MCTs are metabolized in a way that prevents them from depositing into fat tissue. Instead, they are quickly oxidized by the liver, which allows for immediate fuel, something endurance athletes should keep in mind when it comes to obtaining high-energy foods before a workout. Cook with or add coconut oil to foods consumed 60-90 minutes before intense activity for a one-two punch of flavor and readily available energy for the body. Coconut oil’s MCTs may also benefit athletes who find they suffer from gastro-intestinal discomfort following a pre-workout meal because they are easy for the body to digest. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology looked at the effects MCTs on endurance cyclists. The data suggests that when cyclists consumed a glucose-labeled beverage containing medium-chain triglycerides, how quickly they used muscle glycogen decreased, which led to increased endurance and improved performance.

Because carbohydrates are the cornerstone to any good athletic diet, where is there room for fat? The bottom line is that all fats are not created equal. The goal is to incorporate the “healthy fats” in moderation (monounsatured and polyunsaturated fat from olive, canola oils and nuts) and limit the “unhealthy fats” (saturated and trans found in meat, vegetable oils and butter). If you are looking to limit how much butter you eat, it can be beneficial to substitute coconut oil for butter in baked goods where olive oil wouldn’t complement the flavors correctly. A 1 tablespoon serving of coconut oil has approximately 120 calories (the same as olive oil).  Instead of adding coconut oil to your dietary regimen, it is sensible to replace other dietary fat with coconut oil if you are trying to obtain a certain flavor in your food. Whether using coconut, olive or any other type of oil, keep in mind that total fat intake should be 20-30% of total calories daily (note: only 7% of which are saturated).

But does the special make-up of coconut oil boost weight loss too? A study conducted in Brazil assessed whether coconut oil helped people lose weight when they used two tablespoons in their everyday diet, along with exercising and cutting out an excess 200 calories. After three months, both this group and another group using soybean oil in their daily diet lost the same amount of weight. Research on whether or not there is a connection between coconut oil and weight loss is still in the early stages, therefore the claim that it can have “miraculous” effects on weight loss is unfounded. Because of the proven benefits of coconut oil reviewed above, further research is warranted to discover if the oil's unique make-up might affect overall metabolism. However, before you switch to coconut oil hoping that the pounds will come off, keep in mind that flavor may be the only detectable change you experience.

What we know at this point is that coconut oil does not appear to negatively affect health because the saturated fat found in it is metabolized differently than the saturated fat found in animal sources. More studies need to be done to obtain a complete profile of the pros and cons of coconut oil for both athletes and non-athletes alike. For now it is safe to say it still has calories, but can be sensible to use.  If you’re looking to add some nutty flavor to your food, be sure to opt for virgin coconut oil. It has the most flavor, is trans-fat free, and made from fresh coconut milk, which preserves its vital nutrients. Here are some simple recipes, found here, that incorporate coconut oil:

Salad dressing: Sprinkle 1 tablespoon coconut oil mixed with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar over salads.

White Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies:
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup virgin coconut oil, or 2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, optional
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add butter or coconut oil to stand mixer. Add white and brown sugar. Mix until well combined, light and fluffy if your using butter. Add egg, one at a time. Mix until well-incorporated. Add vanilla.
2. Sift together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and salt. Add to stand mixer and mix until just combined.
3. Add chocolate chips, and coconut if using. Mix until just combined. Drop by the tablespoon on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Cool on rack.

Veggie Scramble:
1 tablespoon Virgin Coconut Oil
2 tablespoons zucchini, finely chopped
1 tablespoon onion, minced
2 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1-2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk, cream, or plain almond milk
Himalayan salt
Black pepper

1. In a small pan, melt the coconut oil. Add the zucchini and onions and saute until tender.
2. Next, add the cherry tomatoes, stir and saute for 2 minutes.
3. While the vegetables are sauteing, beat the eggs with milk in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Pour eggs into the pan and scramble lightly.

Hobson, Katherine, and Angela Haupt. "Do Coconut Oil and Coconut Water Provide Health Benefits?"
U.S.News & World Report 2012: 1. ABI/INFORM Complete; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 17 July 2012 .

Schardt, D. Special Feature: Coconut Oil. Nutrition Action Health Letter. June 2012.

Stice, Jeanine. "Coconut Oil Fills in for Butter when Olive Oil can't." Statesman Journal: D.1. Gannett  
Newsstand. Feb 14 2012. Web. 17 July 2012 .

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