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Olive Oil And Coconut Oil

Fats and oils are generally thought of as the solid and liquid variants of the same biochemical substances. Whereas saturated fats are solid at room temperature, unsaturated fats or oils are liquid at room temperature. Coconut oil is somewhat of an exception to this distinction. Although it is a saturated fat and solid at room temperatures below 76 degrees Fahrenheit, it turns to liquid at room temperatures above that.

Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat and coconut oil are often highly recommended due to their inherent health benefits, despite their markedly unique fatty acid compositions. Of the two, perhaps the claims regarding the benefits of coconut oil are a bit more complex. Let us first examine the somewhat more popular olive oil.

Whereas coconut oil has a high content of saturated fat, olive oil's composition consists of about 75% monounsaturated fats. Olive oil maintains an average 13% saturated fat content. Some experts purport the monounsaturated fat content is less stimulating than polyunsaturated fats for producing bile acids in the liver, a factor which leads to the development of colon cancer. Demographic research argues that the high consumption of olive oil in the Mediterranean is the very reason that cancers such as breast, ovarian, colon and prostate seem to occur with less frequency than in the countries of Northern Europe and the USA where polyunsaturated fats are preferred over olive oil. It appears that olive oil does indeed provide a fat with the capacity to maintain a healthy body balance.

Dietitian Katherine Zaratsky, R.D., L.D. and her colleagues have clearly stated that olive oil is the “healthy choice.” The dieticians purport the monounsaturated fat content of olive oil can “lower your risk of heart disease by reducing the total low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol levels in your blood. In contrast, saturated and trans fats — such as butter, tropical oils and hydrogenated margarines — increase your risk of heart disease by increasing your total and LDL cholesterol levels.” They also state, despite the fact that all forms of olive oil contain desirable levels of monounsaturated fat; it is the ‘virgin' and ‘extra-virgin' olive oils that “contain the highest levels of polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant.” This renders olive a good source of healthy nutrients and a welcome addition to juicing recipes for an enhanced version of the best liquid vitamins nature has to offer. Just toss a tablespoon of olive oil into that juice smoothie.

Coconut oil, which is tropical oil, is largely comprised of saturated fats. For quite some time, the low-fat craze in the USA pronounced saturated fats as being anathema to the human body. This led to the promotion of polyunsaturated fats, popularizing such oils as canola, flaxseed, safflower, corn, soybean and other oils, as well as some oils that were partly hydrogenated. Fortunately, science has revealed that the heating of these oils largely destroys their antioxidant content as well as conceivably producing toxic residues. These toxic residues are thought to aide in the configuration and formation of plaque in the arteries. Currently, there is a resurgence of interest in coconut oil, despite its saturated fat content, with the claim that it indeed is a promoter of health in a variety of ways.

Coconut oil has a small number of double bonds within its molecular structure, a fact which allows it to approach solidity at 76 degrees or more. A characteristic it shares with butter. Polyunsaturated fats have more than one double bond. Some health care providers believe that polyunsaturated vegetable oils damage the thyroid. Upon entering the body, they are heated quickly, causing rapid rancidity. Tran's fatty acids are even more subject to rancidity and have been shown to have even more adverse affects on thyroid function. According to this theory, the rancidity of these oils causes impairment of the ability of the thyroid hormone T4 to convert to hydroid hormone T3, whose absence triggers hyperthyroidism, a contributor to weight gain and other unpleasant symptoms. Coconut oil, because of its natural molecular structure, lacks this tendency towards rancidity.

Rancidity is the result of oxidation and can cause considerable damage within the body. This is one of the drawbacks of processed polyunsaturated fats, which are the current stars of Western supermarkets and kitchens. According to pro-coconut oil theorists, the value of coconut oil is in its stability and lack of rancidity outside and inside the body.

In the mid 1940's, Dr. Ray Peat discussed the effect of certain chemicals that farmers were using to suppress thyroid function in pigs for the purpose of fattening them up for market. When the substances used in those processes were found to be carcinogenic, the animals were switched to a diet of corn and soybeans. This diet was found to have the same hypothyroid effect, causing the pigs to fatten nicely. According to Peat, ”The animals' fat becomes chemically similar to the fats in their food, causing it to be equally toxic and equally fattening.” This applies to people as well.

Research reveals that coconut oil may indeed assist in the area of normal thyroid function. Coconut oil is also being studied for its alleged ability to help reduce cholesterol (Blackburn et al 1988, Ahrens and colleagues, 1957). An interesting study of Islanders who migrated to New Zealand indicated that a drop in their intake of coconut oil, which was a regular part of their native diet, resulted in higher levels of LDL cholesterol. It appears that the cholesterol lowering effects of coconut oil is an indirect consequence of its capacity to stimulate the thyroid gland, which has the capacity to convert LDL cholesterol, through enzymatic activity, into anti-aging steroids. In effect, pregnenolone, DHEA and progesterone, created as a result of dietary coconut oil, helps the body fight against cancer, heart disease, obesity and various ailments connected to aging. Proponents of coconut oil point out the robust health of inhabitants of Melanesia and the Yucatan who experience less heart disease, cancer, colon problems and so forth.

A 1987 study (Cohen et al. 1986), based on a 50-year review of literature surrounding coconut oil, noted that coconut oil was far more protective of the human body with regards to rates of cancer than unsaturated oils; in fact, 29% more effective.

Furthermore, the medium chain fatty acids contained in coconut oil, particularly lauric acid, appears to have an adverse effect on pathogenic forms of yeast and fungi. Caprylic acid, also found in coconut oil, has been used to combat prolific yeast infections. Lauric acid is a natural anti-viral substance found in human breast milk.

All in all, it appears that both olive and coconut oils have the ability to help one maintain a healthful body balance. Moreover, the natural anti-oxidants and phytonutrients contained in olive oil are simply an added bonus to an already proven super food. While saturated fats have been implicated in disease processes, it appears that the unique chemical bond of coconut oil renders it a beneficial fat as well.

Dr. Linda Posch MS SLP ND

Next Article: The Health Benefits Of Spices


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