Is coconut oil healthy or hype? In this month’s e-newsletter we give you the scoop on this trendy fat. We tell you why you should become better friends with blueberries, peaking right now in Australia. And why you simply cannot afford to miss our summer low GI cookshop event to learn the truth about carbs and how best to use them. Marike Joubert offers her kitchen tip on making your own fruity tootie ice cream that kids (and grown-ups!) will love, and Sue Radd shares some nifty and healthy Christmas gift ideas.
We wish you and your family much joy and good health for the festive season!
From your foodie dietitians at the Nutrition and Wellbeing Clinic.
Is Coconut Oil the New Magic Bullet?
Despite the lack of convincing scientific evidence, coconut oil has been crowned as the new miracle food that fixes all ailments ranging from Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and gut disorders to viral conditions and infections. Just Google it and see for yourself! Some swear by coconut oil and say it also enhances sports performance, boosts energy levels and helps reduce their waistline. But how much truth is mixed in with the hype? Read what our dietitian, Marike Joubert, says after her investigation.
Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and contains over 90 % of its fats as saturated fat. For decades, the relationship between saturated fat and its detrimental effects on chronic disease – in particular cardiovascular disease – has been well established. Government bodies and groups such as the Heart Foundation of Australia, the Dietitians Association of Australia, the Dietitians of Canada, the British Dietetic Association and the European Society of Cardiology, still hold true to the anthem that “…foods rich in saturated fat (such as coconut oil) are linked with a higher risk of heart disease, and eating high fat foods makes weight control harder…saturated fat increases total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increases the risk of heart disease .” Due to the irrefutable evidence on saturated fat and its debilitating effects, the Heart Foundation of Australia continues to recommend that all Australians avoid coconut oil.
There are a number of issues to consider when looking at coconut oil. First, coconut oil contains three main types of saturated fatty acids, with likely variable health effects. Second, the coconut plant and its oil have been a staple in many traditional Polynesian societies without apparent ill effect. And third, the processing of coconut oil will determine its nutrient properties (i.e. extra virgin coconut oil vs refined coconut oil). Let’s take these in turn.
Coconut oil is made up of three different types of saturated fatty acids: lauric acid (50 %), myristic acid (18 %) and palmitic acid (8 %). All these saturated fats raise your total cholesterol (refer to Table 1). But the twist is that lauric acid, the main saturated fat component of coconut oil, raises total cholesterol by increasing your HDL (good) cholesterol and not your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Sounds promising. And it is for this reason, mainly, that many have jumped to the conclusion that coconut oil is therefore super healthy and cannot have any negative effects. However, at least one small study conducted by researchers from the Heart Research Institute in Sydney and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden of healthy Australian adults without any cardiovascular risk factors, shows that although coconut oil may increase HDL (good) cholesterol, it appears to reduce the protective, anti-inflammatory properties of HDL cholesterol in the body and impairs the normal functioning of the lining of blood vessels – which, of course, is highly undesirable . In contrast, in the same study, the anti-inflammatory activity of HDL cholesterol was improved after consumption of a polyunsaturated fat (safflower oil was used).
Amount Present in Coconut Oil
Length of Carbon Chain
Effect on Total Cholesterol
It is well appreciated that the coconut plant and its components has been consumed as a staple in many Polynesian islands for centuries while they maintained low chronic disease risk. But studies have shown that once islanders move away from their traditional diet and very active lifestyle to a more Western diet and sedentary lifestyle, coconut appears to have no beneficial effects. Brenda Davis, a well known Canadian dietitian and author, puts it well when she says, “when the indigenous diet gives way to a more processed, Western-style, diet laden with white flour, sugar and fatty animal products, disease rates escalate even when coconut continues to be consumed” . It’s also important to remember that in Polynesian countries, other parts of the coconut were also used, such as coconut water and the coconut flesh (both minimally processed). So the coconut oil is unlikely to have been the sole benefactor. And there may be something important about the nutrient interactions that occur when you consume the whole food during a meal or over the day.
Studies have also shown that once coconut oil is refined and processed with heat and chemicals, it loses important properties, including a variety of protective phytonutrients, such as phenolic acids. So if you wish to consume some coconut oil, we believe you should go for the extra virgin variety.
Coconut oil is not a miracle food on its own and at this stage has little scientific basis to back its many marketing claims. It appears that it delivers little or no benefits to those consuming a typical Western diet and may, indeed, cause harm in this context. Perhaps, only the super healthy and fit may be able to afford this delicacy in their regular diet. Either way, until we see more good scientific evidence reassuring us of a lack of potential harm for people eating modern diets, our view is that coconut oil should be used sparingly, like butter, as it provides a large amount of calories and only a very small amount of nutrients per bite.
Just for the record, we’re not anti-coconut. In fact, we love it! It’s a plant food. We just want to be certain that the benefits ascribed in product marketing don’t go beyond what is currently able to be supported by good science. Most importantly, that our Aussie, Kiwi, American, British and other Westernised friends – who are unlikely to be highly active and living on only fish and plant-based diets – aren’t doing themselves more harm than good. We believe it’s prudent to be cautious when there is some evidence of potential harm.
Registered Dietitian Eleese Cunningham summed up the topic in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetics Association, saying: “questions and concerns about coconut oil and its relationship to health requires staying current with science-based recommendations and being mindful of emerging research.” 
We can’t wait for more research to be conducted on coconut oil use in Westernised societies and its health effects, and will keep you updated of any news.
 Dietitians Association of Australia, letter to Sun Herald in regards to article ‘Eat, drink and be wary’, 12 July 2011.
 Nicholls SJ et al, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2006.
“Eat foods, mostly plants, not too much, in colourful variety, maximising nutrients per bite.” – David Jacobs, Professor of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
What’s Cooking? – Simple Summer Meal Ideas to Make Low GI Eating Delicious
Have you been avoiding carbs to try and shift weight or lower your blood sugar?
Not all carbs are created equal. Research shows wholegrain, low GI carbs can actually help you better sustain your weight loss for the long term, feel more satisfied and regulate blood sugar levels – all without having to starve yourself!
They also reduce inflammation in your body and help protect against cancers and heart disease!
Learn how to use the Glycaemic Index (GI) in your kitchen to create delicious meals with superstar carbs. Be enlightened with new research showing that some "complex carbohydrates" are just as bad (or even worse) for your body than sugar! Discover nifty seasoning and portioning tricks to lower the blood sugar raising effect of an entire meal.
Perfect if you or your loved one has diabetes, insulin resistance, PCOS, fatty liver or is struggling to keep that weight off!
Join us on Tuesday, 4th February 2013, at 6:30 pm-8:30 pm to become a mini-carb expert and share your learnings from this cookshop with family and friends.
This could change your life and love/hate relationship with food!
Call NOW on (02) 9899 5208 to book your seat as this event is very popular. Bring your partner!
Clinic News – Our Affiliation with the University of Canberra
As some of you may know, we have long been supportive and engaged in the training of new dietitians. For example, we have taken University of Sydney dietetic students on clinical placements and offered culinary and food science placements for students from the University of Western Sydney.
Now Sue Radd has been appointed as Professional Associate at the University of Canberra. She is looking forward to contributing to the advisory group on curriculum and professional practice competencies for all nutrition and dietetics courses at the progressive University.
What’s Fresh? – Blueberries
Blueberry blueness is everywhere. These fresh little bon bons are a must in your fridge this summer! Not only are they packed with antioxidants, they are also rich in vitamin C and A, and a source of Vitamin K which gives your immune system a powerful boost.
The beautiful blueberry hue come from a special group of flavonoids called anthocyanins. These special phytonutrients stop free radicals (harmful bullies that you’re exposed to everyday) from damaging and ageing your body cells and tissues.
If consumed regularly blueberries have been shown to improve blood sugar levels and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. They also appear to have powerful cancer fighting properties, and studies have suggested they can assist with quicker muscle recovery after exercise. Do you need any more reasons to enjoy them?
Blueberries are in season in Sydney and Brisbane between October and December. In the more Southern states of Australia, the blueberry season begins in December and ends in April.
When buying, look for berries that are firm, slightly soft (not squishy) and have an unblemished, smooth skin. Blueberries can keep for up to two weeks if refrigerated once purchased, but will spoil quickly if left at room temperature. If there are any damaged berries or any signs of decay, remove the culprits from the punnet, otherwise they may spoil the others also.
Try not to get your blueberries wet, as you may wash off their protective ‘bloom’ coating. Storing them wet can also cause early spoilage, so only wash your berries just prior to eating.
7 Ways to Enjoy Fresh or Dried Blueberries:
- Place on your breakfast cereal
- Mix into a yoghurt for a snack
- Make a dried blueberry, nut and seed mix
- Eat a whole punnet of blueberries for dessert
- Add a splash of blue to your fruit salads
- Top pancakes with a dollop of yoghurt and a mix of blueberries and strawberries
- Whiz frozen blueberries into a smoothie or fruity ice-cream
Food Matters with Sue Radd – Why Iodine is Vital for Your Health
Planning to fall pregnant this festive break? Then you need to ensure you have optimised your nutritional status, including less well known but just as important trace elements like iodine. Getting enough could prevent a miscarriage and boost the IQ of your child! Curious? Read Sue’s column to get informed!
Food InFocus – Healthy Christmas Gifts: What to Buy for Your Friends and Family
Still scrambling for a Xmas gift? Why not make it a healthy one. Check out some innovative ideas in this short TV interview with with Sue Radd. Keep your holiday celebrations healthy this year!
Kitchen Tip – DIY Healthy Fruity Tootie Ice Cream
With the squelching heat of summer upon us, a cool and zesty antioxidant snack may be just what you need to give you an energy kick.
Summer fruits are rich in variety, taste and nutrients. Some of our favourites include mangoes, nectarines, peaches, plums, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, figs, passionfruit, rockmelon and watermelon.
The only down-side is that fruits ripen quickly in the heat and can easily go to waste if not eaten soon after purchase. So to make the most of your summer sweets, why not peel and cut up different fruits into separate containers and place in the freezer?
Once frozen you can take out any combination you like as needed and place directly into a blender to whiz!Blend fruits until a thick smoothie-like, ice-cream consistency is reached and then serve. Fruits that tend to blend the best include bananas, peaches, mangoes and berries.
To boost the nutrient and flavour intensity try blending these other ingredients with your ice-cream or smoothie: Greek style yoghurt, soy milk, almond milk, soft tofu, coconut water, vanilla essence, raw cacao powder, grated orange peel, chia seeds or psyllium husks.
To give your summer ice-cream a fancy look for a special or fun occasion, simply top with pomegranate or passionfruit seeds, toasted coconut, fresh berries, toasted slivered almonds or walnuts. Are you salivating?
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Published by the Nutrition & Wellbeing Clinic, Copyright 2013.
Suite 10, 80 Cecil Avenue, Castle Hill NSW 2154 Ph: +61 2 9899 5208 Fx: +61 2 9899 2848 www.nwbc.com.au
We are a boutique Dietitians clinic in Sydney, Australia, offering one-on-one consultations, culinary medicine cooking workshops, motivational health seminars and nutrition advisory services to businesses in the local and global area.
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