WOMEN’S HEALTH: Coconut Oil Is the ‘New’ Heart-Healthy Cooking Oil

wh-9.jpgFor women concerned with health, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, yet it is ‘good’ for you. How can this be?

In the U.S., heart disease is the number one killer for women over fifty. In addition to this alarming fact, it was recently announced that the number of strokes occurring among middle aged women, age 35-54, has tripled over the last five years. Coincident with this is the increase in obesity in increasingly younger women. These statistics measure a serious threat to women’s health. Is the consumption of fat the main offense? Let’s take a look.

When it first became clear that cardiovascular disease was the top killer of Americans, and that obesity was a major risk factor, the consumption of ‘fat’ became a very bad thing. A low-fat diet was the way to go to be healthy, and a complete avoidance of fat was even better. Saturated fat was the worst offender. Diets high in saturated fat were linked to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease.

As research continues, the pendulum is starting to swing.

Recently, it’s come to light that fat isn’t as bad as was once thought — it’s the type of fat that makes a difference. The body actually needs fat — it just needs the right amount of the right kind. Most of us are hip to the fact that we need omega 3 essential fatty acids, and many of us nutritionally-minded folks take either flaxseed or fish oil supplements. But what does all this have to do with coconut oil, which has the highest saturated-fat content (hitherto bad) of all common foods?

People of the South Pacific, the largest producer of coconut oil in the world, consume large amounts of it. They are generally lean and healthy, and have beautiful skin. Cardiovascular disease is not an epidemic in the South Pacific as it is here. Research conducted on the peoples of Sri Lanka and Polynesia showed that their high consumption of coconut oil did not lead to higher cholesterol levels, nor higher rates of heart disease. What is this oddity?

It comes down to the saturated fat issue and new discoveries about it in the West: not all saturated fats are bad for you. Just as with other types of fat, there are good saturated fats and bad saturated fats. You guessed it — coconut oil has the good ones.

What are the good ones, and how do they differ from the bad?

Based on the number of carbon molecules they contain, fats are classified as either short-, medium-, or long-chained. Roughly two-thirds of the saturated fat found in coconut oil is medium-chained. Long-chained saturated fats do not get utilized until they are broken down in the small intestine, which makes them more likely to be stored in the body as fat. This process is bypassed by short- and medium-chained saturated fats, which are absorbed more quickly.

The saturated fat in coconut oil is more easily digested, making for more immediate energy and less fat storage.

Most cooking oils ‘can’t stand the heat,’ and are altered chemically when you cook with them to a form of fat that is less easily digested. A woman’s health can actually benefit by making the switch to using coconut oil for cooking, because its fats are not altered by the cooking process.

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