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Cholesterol and the Coconut

Coconut oil like other tropical oil contain a high amount of saturated fats. However approximately 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid that is found naturally in mother's milk. Lauric acid has antibacterial, antiviral and antiprotozoal properties that helps to strengthen the immune system. Researchers believe that lauric acid do not increase bad cholesterol levels in the body.

A 1981 study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at Polynesians with high intakes of coconut oil and found that blood-vessel disease was uncommon. When these groups migrated to New Zealand and lowered their intake of coconut oil, their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels increased and their HDL "good" cholesterol decreased.

Coconut oil (and all saturated fats) has been blamed for many years as a cause of bad cholesterol levels, which supposedly leads to heart disease. But studies done on traditional tropical populations that consume large amounts of coconut oil show just the opposite. One of the best ways to study the affects of coconut oil on human nutrition is to look at tropical populations that get most of their caloric intake from the saturated fat of coconut oil. Logic would dictate that if the saturated fat/cholesterol theory of heart disease and obesity were correct, those populations with the highest consumption of saturated fats would be the most overweight and have the highest rates of heart disease. Such is not the case.

A study of the populations of two South Pacific islands were examined over a period of time starting in the 1960s. These were times when Western style food was not yet a part of their culture. The study was designed to investigate the relative effects of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol in determining serum cholesterol levels. Up to 60% of their caloric intake come from the saturated fat of coconut oil. The study found that the people were relatively free from modern diseases like obesity and heart disease. They conclude that vascular disease is uncommon in both populations and there is no evidence that the high saturated fat intake is having a harmful effect in these populations.

In India a study was done comparing traditional cooking oils, like coconut oil and ghee which are rich in saturated fats, with modern oils like sunflower or safflower oils which are mostly polyunsaturated. This study was commission due to the prevalence of heart disease and Type-II diabetes. The study was conducted by the Department of Medicine, at Safdarjang Hospital in New Delhi.

The study was titled “Choice of cooking oils--myths and realities”, and was published in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association in 1998. They found that while saturated fats were portrayed as unhealthy in favor of newer polyunsaturated vegetable oils, heart disease and diabetes had actually increased after consumption of the traditional oils like coconut oil and ghee decreased. They concluded that these newer "heart-friendly" oils like sunflower or safflower oils possess an undesirable Omega 6 fatty acid ratio to Omega 3 fatty acids, and that there are numerous research data now available to indicate that the sole use or excess intake of these newer vegetable oils are actually detrimental to the health of Indians. In fact the the study actually recommended that they replace these polyunsaturated vegetable oils with traditonal cooking fats such as ghee and coconut oil!

Any time you read bad press in the media, it is good to remember that coconut and coconut oil are natural foods used by healthy peoples for thousands of years.

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