Welcome to my blog! My name is Isabel, and I'm currently a student at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, attaining a Masters of Science in Nutrition Communications. I'm also an avid health-nut who is allergic to absolutely everything- wheat, soy, corn, dairy, and eggs, and who loves to work out! I am currently in school learning how to better communicate to the public why and how they can become healthier and happier. So hopefully you can learn something too! Anything that you want to see on my blog or any questions you have please leave me questions and I will do my best to answer! I'm just getting going, but I soon hope to post recipes, fun fitness tips, and other exciting nutrition and fitness tips! enjoy!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Skinny on the Coconut Fat

Are you afraid of fat? Well once upon a time, 30 years ago, the "in" way to take off the extra pounds was to eat a low fat diet. Diets that emphasized a low fat profile, generally maintained good flavor and texture by adding extra sugars and other additives to the recipes.  Products like Snack Wells Fat Free Devils Food cookies that boasted zero grams had 7 grams of sugar per 50 calorie cookie. While 7 grams of sugar isn't an issue. It was the easy consumption of 5 cookies for 250 calories and 35 grams of sugar that became the issue.
Because the cookies are so low in calorie and fat content people think that they can eat a lot of them- if you look closely this is an issue because of the ease of consuming an entire box! Foods that are low in fat are generally less satisfying and higher in sugars. Therefore they are generally less filling and more likely to cause you to eat more than one, or five. Quickly this 6 cookie binge can add up to 300 calories, and 42 grams of sugar (you could have almost 2 snickers bars for the same amount of sugar- I don't know about you but that sounds a lot better to me!). The longer term effects of a high sugar diet  can lead to damaged arteries, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease- so whats the take away? Don't completely avoid fat, because foods that have substitutes instead of fat will generally have a lot more sugar and will be much less satisfying.
There was one more attempt at reducing fat during the low-fat diet era: Olestra. Does anyone remember Olestra? A fat substitute that was used in potato chips that had really nasty side effects- it caused oily leakage... I won't go there. But the take home message is that fat belongs in your food! The substitutes just aren't the same as the real thing.
Back to the fat.
More recently diets that focus on a high fat/ low carbohydrate plan have taken the stage- this isn't the best option either. Our bodies are designed to digest both carbohydrates and fat. Our brain LOVES carbohydrates, and in fact it is our bodies preferred source of immediate fuel. When you go for a run, or chase your kids in the yard, the first few minutes are completely powered by stored carbohydrates in our muscles and our body tissues. When you don't eat enough of them you lack this ability to power up and go.
Conversely while carbohydrates are used for immediate energy and for keeping our blood sugar levels normalized (at a constant level), fat is used for longer-term energy. Fat is heavily relied on for low intensity, longer duration activity, and in addition can be called upon to make fuel during times of need when carbohydrate levels are running low.
Clearly I hope by this point you understand that they are both really important to normal functioning.
Lately, saturated fats have been the highlight of discussion. We all should limit the amount of saturated fat we consume. When a fat is saturated it refers to the composition of the fat at room temperature. In terms of the science, a saturated fat molecule is a molecule in which all of the carbon atoms are joined to a hydrogen atom- all bonds in the molecule are single, and all hydrogen atoms are bonded. For all you non-science people, just know that this type of fat is solid at room temperature and is found in animal meats.

I hope you're thinking, "well, olive oil certainly isn't solid at room temperature so this must not be saturated." Bingo! You've got that right, olive oil and other vegetable, peanut, and sesame oils are called unsaturated. To get into the science again, this is caused by a carbon atom that is missing a hydrogen bond so the carbon chain is "unsaturated"- or unsatisfied with hydrogen bonds and therefore has a double bond. Ok enough science.
Unsaturated fats have generally been touted as being the better for you (specifically for your heart) fats, and are the recommended fats over saturated fats by the FDA Dietary Guidelines. The FDA recommends no more than 10% of your daily calories to be from saturated fats- which for a 2,000 calorie diet means about 20 grams.
Due to the recommendation that saturated fat consumption should be limited, the recent decision that coconut oil that has a high content of saturated fat is good for you, might seem odd. For a long time, coconut oil was off of the good list, but has recently returned.
An article in the New York Times rejoices the comeback of the buttery soild at room temperature oil. The article reports that the previously negative stigma of coconut oil was caused by the methods of previous testing. Previous testing on coconut oil was completed using partially hydrogenated coconut oils (partially hydrogenated oils are the kind that have high trans fat contents- they are made in a lab and are really bad for you-to make it simple). Recent studies were re-done on coconut oils, and this time they used fully hydrogenated oils (without trans fats) and the study results came out in the favor of coconut oils.

So the verdict is out-  "virgin" coconut oil is good for you! "Virgin" refers to the lack of partially hydrogenated oils- which means that all antioxidant effects are present and it is less likely to clog your arteries.

An an even bigger deal, the ADA spokesperson Marisa Moore reports that all saturated fats are not created equal- meaning that the saturated fat you will find in coconut oil should NOT be compared to that in steak.
This is still new information, so like anything else, don't overdo it- it still isn't safe to consume more than 20 g per day (on a 2,000 calorie diet). But unlike other bad saturated fats that we try to keep at 0 grams in our diet, this one is ok to try out in moderation.

So try it out!
Heres a delicious-looking recipe from the New York Times (they have GREAT recipes if you haven't checked it out!)

Sautéed Shrimp With Coconut Oil, Ginger and Coriander

The recipe calls for: 
2 1/2 Tbsp refined coconut oil
6 scallions, white parts thinly sliced- dark green parts sliced and reserved
1 Tbsp finely chopped and peeled ginger
2 finely chopped garlic cloves
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 pound large shelled shrimp
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for serving

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the coconut oil in the pan. Add the white scallion slices, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the coriander and cook 30 seconds more.
2. Add the shrimp and salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the green scallion pieces and cook until just wilted, 10 to 15 seconds. Season with lemon juice and black pepper. Serve with lemon wedges. 
I haven't tried this recipe but I am going to on sunday night! I have a jar of unopened coconut oil- this is a great excuse to open it! 

- Healthy Gal

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