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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
21 May

Guest Post by Modern Forager: The Tropical Oils

palmoilA 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

Picture2 5

for the great Guest Post!

Photo Courtesy of Energy Industries Council

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. 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 movement like running, cycling or for a workout in a gym?
    Sorry for my poor english.

    Kecske wrote on May 21st, 2008
  2. 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.

    Sasquatch wrote on May 21st, 2008
  3. 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.

    Maria wrote on May 21st, 2008
  4. 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!!

    Dave C. - DaveGetsFit wrote on May 21st, 2008
  5. Hmm. Does this mean pumpkin-seed oil isn’t so good?

    Sera wrote on May 21st, 2008
  6. 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.

    Nancy S wrote on May 21st, 2008
  7. 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

    tatsujin wrote on May 21st, 2008
    • 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.

      Karen Vaughan wrote on November 19th, 2009
  8. 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.

    brassica oleracea wrote on May 21st, 2008
  9. 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.

    Maria wrote on May 21st, 2008
  10. 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

    Huckleberry wrote on May 21st, 2008
    • hey where do you get red palm oil asm i am geting it hard to get john thanks

      john wrote on November 14th, 2012
  11. 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 awhile since I read up on the Kreb’s cycle. I do know that the body can produce plenty of energy from fat when needed, especially at lower intensities. I’m maintaining a high intensity training schedule for sprinting at a daily carb intake of ~17%.

    Sera, from a brief search, it looks like pumpkin seed oil is pretty polyunsaturated which would make it a bad one for cooking with.

    Nancy S., be thankful your son is allergic to Crisco. That stuff is the Devil, even in the non-trans fat version. Stick to real fats.

    tatsujin, avocado oil looks like a decent oil for cooking in, mostly monounsaturated (~75%) with the rest about evenly poly- and saturated. Supposedly it has the highest smoke point of any plant oil, which is a good thing. However, I still advise cooking in healthful saturated fats…lard, tallow, coconut oil, or palm oil. Add your olive or avocado oil after the fact.

    One bit of advice to all…don’t cook eggs in palm oil. I tried it a couple times and the two flavors just do not combine well. Your tongue may not retch with those two flavors, but mine sure didn’t like it.

    Cheers
    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

    Scott Kustes - Modern Forager wrote on May 21st, 2008
    • 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 has been looking at videotapes of live red blood cells filmed under dark field microscopes and sees that eating ghee stabilizes the cell membranes and makes them less vulnerable to attack. Actually I mix coconut oil, palm oil and ghee for my usual cooking mix.

      I have more information here, in an article I did on butter: http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com/uncategorized/butter-is-good-for-your-health

      Karen Vaughan wrote on November 20th, 2009
  12. 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.

    Kecske wrote on May 22nd, 2008
  13. 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 bacterial and anti viral agent. eat a big spoonful three times a day (and cut your carbs) if you get ill. any infection or inflammation or flu will be responsive to the oil

    put it on burns, cuts and bruises, excema – i have found it very effective for wound healing – it will also help in restoring the skin as it’s fatty acids will feed cell building to.

    coconut oil is as close to a “miracle” product that you can buy – name any other substance you can use to feed the boy, put of insects, get a safe tan and heal your woulds and kill bugs?

    M

    oh – ad you can cook with it too…. coconut ice cream – mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    markus wrote on May 22nd, 2008
  14. 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.

    Allen Y wrote on May 22nd, 2008
  15. Allen, you’re onto me! I think Robb is the one that turned me on to coconut oil, so blame him. :-D

    Cheers
    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

    Scott Kustes - Modern Forager wrote on May 22nd, 2008
  16. 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:)

    sarena wrote on May 22nd, 2008
  17. 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 little more sense of it!

    Tara wrote on May 24th, 2008
  18. 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!

    Janis wrote on May 28th, 2008
  19. 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.

    Richard Nikoley wrote on August 3rd, 2008
  20. 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!

    Aaron wrote on August 3rd, 2008
  21. Does anyone know were to get this in the Uk at a reasonable price

    Graeme wrote on October 22nd, 2008
  22. coconut oil

    Graeme wrote on October 22nd, 2008
  23. 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?????????????

    P wrote on December 2nd, 2008
  24. 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 endangered orangutans and Sumatran white tigers; and is a huge source of greenhouse gasses through the process of clearing and burning of forests to make more palm oil.

    Of course, not all palm oil is sourced for food. The oil has a long history of being used in everything from cosmetics to glue, with an increased use of biofuel resulting in a elevated demand as well. Yet with claims like “the worst deforestation rate in the history of human kind,” you can’t help but rethink your stir-fry.

    But amongst the large amount of evidence condemning palm oil, there is some good news to be had. While a large amount of palm oil may come from Indonesia, not all of it does; Malaysia is actually the largest producer of tropical oils. Unlike its geographical neighbor, according to The Palm Oil Truth Foundation, “Malaysia has one of the most stringent environmental laws in the world . . . vigorously enforced especially in the agricultural sectors of the economy.” The foundation also cites “Malaysia [had] an Environment Quality Act as early as 1974 to put in place environmentally sound technology to control effluent discharge by the palm oil industry.” Beyond Malaysia, there are many other sources of palm oil, which boast more sustainable farming practices too, including other parts of Asia and Africa.

    This new tropical oil debate is a good reminder that there is more to food than simply the effect that it has on our bodies; we must also consider the effect that it has on the body of the earth. Palm oil remains a great asset to the kitchen cupboard, as long as we read labels and choose our sources wisely.”

    Link to article:
    http://gliving.tv/news/good-for-you-bad-for-the-planet-the-business-of-exploiting-palm-oil/

    Hope this helps you!

    Chris wrote on January 13th, 2009
  25. Very interesting post, I love finding a good quality blog thats not full of rubbish. I would love to do a link exchange.

    Pet Snakes wrote on May 27th, 2009
  26. 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.

    Earl Maldonado wrote on June 16th, 2009
  27. 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 more.
    There are a number of human clinical trials being conducted currently to evaluate the effectiveness of tocotrienols in preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke “Neuroprotective and Cardioprotective Effects Of Palm Vitamin E Tocotrienols” & healing of surgical scar “Efficacy of Natural Vitamin E Tocotrienol on the treatment of Surgical Scar”[search for these from http://clinicalTrials.gov.
    More information about the benefits of palm oil can be found on http://www.mpoc.org.my, and information about tocotrienols on http://www.tocotrienol.org

    Thank you.

    CM Lai.

    CM Lai wrote on June 30th, 2009
  28. 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 SFA, 2g PUFA and 5g MUFA, so I presume the outlook isn’t good…?

    Mart wrote on March 5th, 2011
  29. 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.

    Polecatz wrote on May 15th, 2011
  30. 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.

    Greg Thomas wrote on January 15th, 2013
  31. 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 a little salt before roasting, and add nothing else, the flavor is wonderful.

    josé wrote on March 7th, 2013

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