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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 21, 2008

Guest Post by Modern Forager: The Tropical Oils

By Guest
42 Comments

Palm OIlA week or so ago, someone noticed my jar of palm oil in the pantry and made a comment about how palm oil is supposed to be bad for you. Next to that was my jar of coconut oil, which is also supposed to be bad for you. So I thought I’d touch on the many health benefits of consuming palm and coconut oils and show why they are not detrimental to health, and are in fact, good for your health.

First, how did palm and coconut oils come to be “unhealthy”? That one is simple: they are both saturated oils. And as we all “know”, saturated fat is the unhealthy fat that will cause you to gain weight, have high cholesterol, and lead to a heart attack. That all of that is bunk is irrelevant (Lenin stated “A lie told often enough becomes the truth” – seems to hold in this case).

Ray Peat has an excellent article about the benefits of coconut oil. Coconut oil is made up of mostly short- and medium-chain fatty acids. What this means is that they are immediately available to the body as energy without the use of the carnitine transport system, being absorbed directly through the stomach instead. If you consume coconut milk or oil, you can actually feel your body temperature rise, owing to coconut oil’s effects on metabolism (half a can of coconut milk has actually made me sweat). Coconut oil also supports thyroid function, another driver of metabolism. Coconut oil is rich in butyric, lauric and myristic acids, which are variously being used to treat cancer and infection.

When I talk about palm oil, I’m talking about the unmodified red palm oil like that sold by Tropical Traditions (where I buy my palm and coconut oils). Palm kernel oil and any clear palm oils are not going to have the health benefits of red palm oil due to refining, deodorization, and bleaching. Palm oil is an excellent source of numerous vitamins, including Coenzyme Q10 which supports healthy heart function. It contains all eight forms of vitamin E – 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols – along with high levels of vitamin A, mainly in the form of alpha- and beta-carotene, which provide the rich red color. Palm oil actually has fifteen times the beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) content of a carrot and 300 times that of a tomato. Palm oil is the second most widely consumed oil in the world, behind soybean oil. However, if we remove the United States from the equation, palm oil is the number one oil. For some reason, we’d rather hydrogenate soybean oil than use natural palm oil for baking.

Polyunsaturated oils, on the other hand, are powerfully immunosuppressive. Concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids have been administered intravenously to skin graft and organ transplant patients to suppress the immune system, reducing the chances of rejection. Unfortunately, these patients also quickly developed cancer. Dr. Peat mentions that “An excess of the polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s) is central to the development of degenerative diseases: cancer, heart disease, arthritis, immunodeficiency, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, connective tissue disease, and calcification.” Intake of polyunsaturated fats is also positively correlated with susceptibility to oxidative damage from ultraviolet rays, which could explain why my ability to endure time in the sun has improved with the addition of coconut and palm oils to my diet (along with the added antioxidants from my fruit and vegetable intake).

Saturated oils are nearly impervious to oxidation and degradation. Basically, there are four types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans. Trans fats are just bad news altogether, so I’m not even going to touch on them. Every fat molecule consists of a glycerol molecule joined to three fatty acids, as this image shows. The degree of saturation refers to the number of double bonds between carbon atoms on a single fatty acid. So looking at the top two fatty acids, you see that no carbons are double bonded; all are bonded to hydrogen molecules, hence this fatty acid is “saturated” with hydrogen. The bottom fatty acid has a single double bond, meaning that it is monounsaturated. A fatty acid with two or more double bonds is polyunsaturated. These double bonds are susceptible to attack from free radicals, which degrades the fats, both inside and outside of your body. Obviously more double bonds equals more bonds available for attack. Heat, light, and oxygen all cause damage to fats in proportion to their degree of unsaturation. Therefore, polyunsaturated fats are the most unstable, with monounsaturated and saturated fats falling next in line. Coconut oil is so stable that after a year on the shelf at room temperature, it has been shown to have no measurable rancidity. Polyunsaturated oils are so unstable that they must undergo a great deal of processing to be made relatively shelf stable, including deodorization and bleaching. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your polyunsaturated cooking oils are stable, merely that there are few components left in it that will have an off taste or smell to warn you of its rancidity. Polyunsaturated processing also removes pretty much any trace of vitamins, a step which is not needed with saturated oils.

The great irony was that the Center for Science in the Public Interest, many years ago sued fast food makers for frying their fries in lard and other saturated fats. The fast food companies switched to hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in trans fats, the one fat that has no natural place in your body. Now, the CSPI is suing fast food makers for using oils containing trans fats; I guess it gives them a reason to exist. As it turns out, saturated fats are the healthiest oil to deep fry in (healthiest being a relative term when discussing deep frying) due to their ability to tolerate high temperatures. Cooking, especially deep frying, in polyunsaturated oils is bad news.

Palm and coconut oils have been vilified needlessly. These are two of the healthiest oils you could be eating, but because they are saturated, the makers of our “wonderful” polyunsaturated oils will keep telling us how bad they are for us. And political correctness won’t allow anyone to state that any oil could be better for you than olive oil. Olive oil, while good for you, is not the health panacea of the Mediterranean diet that it’s made out to be. It is merely a good oil that is relatively stable and quite tasty.

Vilification of these two oils was relatively easy though. At room temperature, they are both solid, resembling the “arterial plaques” that we are constantly shown (note: arterial plaques do not resemble saturated fats). Of course, at 98.6 degrees, the internal temperature of the body, both would be liquid, but why hymn and haw over facts? And as this picture shows, very little of our cell walls are made up of polyunsaturated fats. Is that saturated fat that makes up some 40% of human fat and cell walls? That saturated and monounsaturated fats make up our cell walls make sense; they provide stability and rigidity that polyunsaturated fats cannot.

So let’s run up the tally here:
Coconut oil: very stable for cooking, no need for refining, no need for hydrogenation, improves metabolism, rich in fatty acids which support the immune system
Palm oil: also very stable for cooking, no need for refining, no need for hydrogenation, rich in vitamins A and E, high in CoQ10
Polyunsaturated oils: very unstable for cooking, very short shelf life, must be highly processed to avoid tasting and smelling awful, contain no vitamins due to processing, suppress the immune system

It looks like saturated tropical oils in a landslide. I know that my consumption of palm and coconut oils has improved my skin, my energy levels, and my body composition. Given the scientific facts and my own experience, I’ll stick with cooking in palm and coconut oils and adding olive oil (monounsaturated) to my salad dressings and vegetables. And if you’re worried about cholesterol or saturated fat’s effects on cholesterol, check out my review of The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo.

Mark’s Daily Apple Note: Thanks to Scott Kustes of

Modern Forager

for the great Guest Post!

Photo Courtesy of Energy Industries Council

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34 Comments on "Guest Post by Modern Forager: The Tropical Oils"

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Kecske
Kecske
8 years 6 months ago
I’m a bit confused. I knew that saturated fat like coconut is healthy, but is there any saturated fat that is really bad? I hope that bacon/speck (sorry, i don’t know the exact english word for the part of the pig which contents about 100% fat) is really bad. Is it? The only thing I’m sure that any kind of transfat is unhealthy. I’m not afraid of fat or cholesterol but I’dont understand exactly why carbohydrate is so bad in a larger amount. So we don’t need it for atp synthesis ? Can we get enough energy from fat for… Read more »
Sasquatch
8 years 6 months ago

Nice post. You really have to ignore a lot of compelling data to think coconut oil is unhealthy. Namely, that there are numerous cultures throughout the world that eat coconuts and their oil (87% saturated) and essentially don’t get cardiovascular disease.

The pattern of healthy Pacific island cultures is pretty consistent: low to moderate fat intake, mostly saturated with some polyunsaturated from fish. Low omega-6. Most of the calories come from cooked starchy tubers. No grains whatsoever.

Maria
Maria
8 years 6 months ago

Thank you for the great info!
So does coconut oil taste anything like coconut flesh? I’m curious to know if it makes the food you cook in it taste much like coconut.

Dave C. - DaveGetsFit
8 years 6 months ago

This will make my wife happy. She is Thai and loves to cook with coconut milk, but has been affected by the bombardment of the “fat is bad” cries. She make a chicken curry dish with coconut milk in it that is great!!

Sera
8 years 6 months ago

Hmm. Does this mean pumpkin-seed oil isn’t so good?

Nancy S
Nancy S
8 years 6 months ago

Maria~~

I used coconut oil to make a frosting for my son (he’s allergic to a lot of things, including soy so no Crisco for him) and it ended up tasting like chocolate and coconut instead of just chocolate. It was yummy (but only to those who like coconut!). I don’t remember anything else I made (just to use up the jar) having a distinctive flavor.

tatsujin
8 years 6 months ago

Coconut oil does have a distinctive flavor.
So I tend to use it with more asian and curry type recipes.

Scott, if you have the time;
What about “avocado oil”? Ok to cook with?
Marc

Karen Vaughan
7 years 13 days ago

Coconut oil does have a distinctive taste. Palm oil doesn’t but has a distinctive color. For everyday cooking I mix ghee (clarified butter) with coconut oil and palm oil and while more orange-colored than butter, it has a fairly inoffensive taste and doesn’t stain the food red.

brassica oleracea
brassica oleracea
8 years 6 months ago

I find that though coconut oil has a distinctive flavor & smell, it’s not overwhelmingly COCONUT. That is to say, it doesn’t make everything taste like a macaroon or smell like suntan lotion. It’s flavor is distinctive in the same way the flavor of olive oil is distinctive. I’ll use it for my scrambled eggs in the morning, done up with broccoli and mushrooms and roasted red peppper. VERY tasty!

That’s been my experience, anyway.

Maria
Maria
8 years 6 months ago

Thanks to all for the replies!

I actually like real coconut flavor, but have found overwhelmingly coconut-y sauces to be a bit too much, hence the initial hesitation. But the oil sounds good on many levels, so I’ll definitely be checking it out soon.

Huckleberry
8 years 6 months ago

Great post. My coconut oil and red palm oil are next to each other too on the shelf, and I use them a lot. I used the red palm oil last night in a big pot of chili.

For people asking about coconut oil’s flavor, it’s coconuty, but not in a strong tasting way. I love it for cooking eggs, salmon, onions, sauces with coconut milk, etc.

Food Is Love

john
john
4 years 18 days ago

hey where do you get red palm oil asm i am geting it hard to get john thanks

Scott Kustes - Modern Forager
8 years 6 months ago
Kecske, why do you hope that bacon is really bad? Bacon is like the best tasting food ever, right up there with really dark chocolate and a Young’s Oatmeal Stout. Seriously though, bacon isn’t all that bad, nor is animal fat. Bacon is as good as the source and the way it is cured. Bacon from a pastured pig produced without nitrates/nitrites is A-OK. I wouldn’t eat it daily, but then again, I wouldn’t eat very many things daily. Variety is good in all things. As for needing carbs for ATP synthesis, I’m not sure the answer because it’s been… Read more »
Karen Vaughan
7 years 12 days ago
Scott, The amount of carbohydrates needed to kick off the Krebs cycle is quite small and can come from other things than grains. However if you start with fats, you are much better off in making ATP than from glucose molecules. Fat molecules are arranged in triglycerides–fully reduced molecule with three fatty acid chains with 18 carbons each. So a single triglyceride has the potential to drive 27 rounds of the Krebs cycle—as compared to two per molecule of glucose. Glucose is our back up system. I also suggest ghee (clarified butter) as a source of cooking fat. Ingrid Naiman… Read more »
Kecske
Kecske
8 years 6 months ago

Scott:

I hope it, because it’s hard to change the mind:). My father eats tons of bacon with bread. His motto is “Workers have to eat” or something like that. He works in an office and he don’t do any exercise… I thought both the bacon and the bread/pasta from processed flour is responsible for his big obesity and his bad health.

markus
markus
8 years 6 months ago
i have no experience of palm oil but coconut oil i do. much more than a healthy food, the oil is: a fantastic sun protector, in that it allows substantial time in the sun without any burning (must make sure you put plenty on and not get it rubbed off). at the same time, it conditions the skin, and, because it is a saturated fat, will not oxidize and may help in vitamin D synthesis – unlike sunscreens); a possible effective insect repellent – i have found that is can prevent biting if you put enough on. a proven anti… Read more »
Allen Y
Allen Y
8 years 6 months ago

Who is this Modern Forager guy? Sounds like a food snob to me…

Nice guest post, I want to let you know that you and Robb were the ones that finally convinced me to try out using coconut oil for the majority of my cooking. I also realized that I was wasting perfectly good bacon fat by dumping it and not using it to cook up some eggs.

If you haven’t checked out Scott’s blog before I’d recommend it as I his blog and this blog are sites I read regularly.

Scott Kustes - Modern Forager
8 years 6 months ago

Allen, you’re onto me! I think Robb is the one that turned me on to coconut oil, so blame him. 😀

Cheers
Scott Kustes
Modern Forager

sarena
8 years 6 months ago

Well I hadnt used it in a while, but went today to buy another jar of red palm oil!! I remember using it a while back for greens and it was yummy!!

Oh and I used the fat in a can of good wild (vital coast)sardines today to cook eggs and greens:)

Tara
Tara
8 years 6 months ago
This is so confusing. I feel like there are so many bodies of evidence backing up both sides of the discussion (pro- and anti- sat fats)… I dont know what is best for me anymore and I am definitley not going to use my own body as an experimentation vessel. I personally follow the Mediterranean diet and have allowances for sat fats (like coconut milk and bacon, which I love) in moderation. BUT I would like to do the HEALTHIEST thing for myself, but what IS that? Yikes. Thanks for the info Mark and Scott… this heps me make a… Read more »
Janis
Janis
8 years 6 months ago

I started using coconut oil about a month ago when it was recommended as the fat of choice for my low carb adrenal fatigue diet.

If anyone is worried about the coconut flavor you can quit worrying. I hate coconut and have no problem with it at all. I love the way frozen vegetables taste when sauteed in it, although I was hesitant, thinking I’d miss the butter flavor. To my surprise I like the coconut oil more than butter!

Richard Nikoley
8 years 3 months ago

Late to the party here, but I recently discovered these oils and though I haven'[t tried the palm, I use the coconut a lot.

All my stir frys, with chicken, shrimp, scallops, sausage, or some combo, and veggies. I finish off with a dash of toasted sesame oil.

Here”s another, that I did last night. Take a few tablespoons of coconut oil and heat in a saucepan. Then, get raw shrimp, spear them, and grill. Then take the grilled shrimp and dip them in the hot coconut oil and eat, just like you would crab or lobster in drawn butter. Yumm.

Aaron
8 years 3 months ago

Great suggestion, Richard. I love summer grilling and will definitely give the coconut oil dip for grilled shrimp a try. BTW – Great blog! Keep up the great work!

Graeme
Graeme
8 years 1 month ago

Does anyone know were to get this in the Uk at a reasonable price

Graeme
Graeme
8 years 1 month ago

coconut oil

P
P
8 years 6 hours ago

I’ve tried coconut oil for cooking, but really, really, really don’t like the taste/texture of it. 🙁 It’s my understanding that with Palm Oil, there can be issues with sustainability/eco-friendliness due to Orangutan populations as well as the whole shipping across many miles thing.

Soo…………..

Any suggestions?????????????

Chris
Chris
7 years 10 months ago
P: Like everything we eat, wear or do there is always an impact on the environment. Here’s an article discussing the concern you mentioned. I only copied the last half of the article that related directly to your concern, but there is a link at the end of the post for the whole article: “Indonesia is apparently the third in line of deforesting countries (right behind the US and China). The article also claims that in addition to as much as 80% of this deforestation being illegal, the process is notorious for violating human rights; threatens the population of severely… Read more »
Pet Snakes
7 years 6 months ago

Very interesting post, I love finding a good quality blog thats not full of rubbish. I would love to do a link exchange.

Earl Maldonado
Earl Maldonado
7 years 5 months ago

Wonderful post Chris! I’ve gone into the Palm Oil Truth Foundation site and although its hard not to notice that its a palm oil friendly site, I’ve come away convinced that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

The Palm Oil Truth people and Forager have uncovered a lot of the rubbish that is floating out there about palm oil.

I think palm oil must be so formidable to its competitors that they’d stop at nothing to stop its growing global popularity for food manufacturing and biodiesel production, including funding anti-palm oil campaigns.

CM Lai
CM Lai
7 years 5 months ago
Hi there, thank you for this great information about palm oil and coconut oil. I am not commenting directly about palm oil, but I just wish to share that tocotrienols are found in both palm and coconut oils. Palm oil contains all four forms of tocotrienols and this makes it a unique oil. Other tocotrienol sources are rice brain, barley, oats, but they come in smaller quantities and not in all 4 forms. Tocotrienol has been studied rigorously in recent decades on its ability in rendering cardioprotection, neuroprotection (NIH funded studies – published in Stroke Journal), anticancer effects, anti-inflammation, and… Read more »
Mart
5 years 8 months ago
Spectrum Naturals Shortening – any opinion on the healthiness of this stuff: http://www.spectrumorganics.com/?id=87 Anyone on a low budget has to read posts like this with an eye to finding the cheapest solution to take advantage of the MDA recommendation. Most of the time it’s ridiculous, as virgin oils of any kind, palm, coconut or whatever are not cheap. I currently use Louanna refined coconut oil as my cooking staple. Not ideal – but that’s the ONLY relatively cheap coconut oil anywhere. I simply cannot afford the virgin stuff. So what about the Spectrum Naturals Shortening? Any ideas? It says 6g… Read more »
Polecatz
Polecatz
5 years 6 months ago

I used coconut oil yesterday to roast some yellow peppers and sweet potato. The taste of coconut was subtle, not overwhelming even tho’ I used extra virgin oil.It went really well with the sweet potato and my dinner guests were pleasantly surprised. just bought some palm oil and once I have a few recipe ideas am going to try it. people are coming round to coconut oil but palm oil is really maligned. Even in London you can only buy these two oils in African/Asian shops.

Greg Thomas
Greg Thomas
3 years 10 months ago

Great article Mark, I am a newbee to PB and very excited about getting on board. For EVERYONE that wants to know more about FATS and OILS, you must read “The Coconut Oil Miracle”. I am a professional chef and it completely changed how I cook at home and at work. It also completely changed how I view fats and how they are used or not used by the body. Keep up the good work.

josé
josé
3 years 8 months ago
In northeastern Brazil, they make a wonderful fish stew called a “moqueca”. It’s cooked in coconut milk with lots of red palm oil. The two flavors (as well as the onion, garlic, cilantro, and of course fish) combine very well. Most of the English-language recipes (like this otherwise excellent one: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/moqueca_-_brazilian_fish_stew/) substitute out the palm oil (!) Just put it back instead of olive – and be generous with the amount of palm oil. Traditionally, it’s served over white rice. I like to serve it over roasted squash or cauliflower. If you just coat the vegetable with coconut oil and… Read more »
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