Yesterday I chronicled my not so harrowing experience cooking with coconut oil for the first time, and I promised to discuss the reasoning behind cooking with a new (to me) fat. The DH and I usually cook with olive oil, but there is a growing body of evidence indicating that olive oil may not be the nutritional godsend we’ve been led to believe it is.
Apparently olive oil begins to break down when it is heated much above 200°F-250°F–which is not very hot at all. George Mateljan of The World’s Healthiest Foods explains that “oxidation of nourishing substances found in extra virgin olive oil, as well as acrylamide formation [an air-borne neurotoxin, among other nasty things] can occur at cooking temperatures close to 300°F.”
Did you catch that? We’re all trying to be healthy, so we’re cooking with EVOO like everyone tells us to, and we’re inhaling toxic fumes?! Yuck! Click here to watch a video with George explaining the process. You can literally see the oil change from a beautiful green to clear as it heats up and oxidization begins.
Olive oil, especially the extra virgin variety, just isn’t designed to be cooked with at high temperatures. To retain the benefits of olive oil, it seems better to use it to finish foods, drizzling it over your salmon after it is cooked, using it to dress a salad, etc.
So, to avoid eating oxidized oil, it’s recommended that one only cook with fats that can handle the heat: coconut, avocado, high oleic safflower, etc. But as good child of the 90’s, I remember when movie theaters were forced to stop using coconut oil to pop their popcorn because of its high saturated fat content. So why is this healthy food guru advocating the use of saturated fat?
Because it’s starting to look like eating saturated fat isn’t what makes us unhealthy! I’ve been doing research on different fats in general, and the role of saturated fat in our diet in particular. The DH is reading through In Defense of Food right now, and Michael Pollan (among other authors and nutritionists) calls into question the link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease/other maladies.
I highly recommend the book, but this Q&A excerpt from his website sums it up nicely:
OR: Everyone has heard about the low-fat diet. In the book, you talk about how little evidence there is that this diet — bolstered by the lipid hypothesis — is the magic bullet.
MP: I was very surprised when I started delving into that. The big message from nutrition science and public health since the 1970s has been that the great dietary evil is fat — saturated fat in particular. In the years since, this hypothesis has gradually melted away. There are still people who think that saturated fats are a problem because they do raise bad cholesterol, but they also raise good cholesterol. But there are very few people left who think that dietary cholesterol is a problem. There is a link between saturated fat and cholesterol in the blood. There is a link between cholesterol in the blood and heart disease. But the proof that saturated fat leads to heart disease in a causal way is very tenuous. In one review of the literature I read, only two studies suggested that, and a great many more failed to find that link. Yet the public is still operating on this basis that we shouldn’t be eating cholesterol.
In fact, when the government decided to tell people to stop eating fat or cut down on saturated fat, the science was very thin then. But the net result of that public health campaign was to essentially get people off of saturated fat or try to get them onto trans fats, and we’ve since learned that that was really bad advice because the link between trans fats and heart disease is the strongest link we have of any fat to heart disease. They told us butter is evil and margarine is good, and it turned out to be the opposite.
You still see all these no cholesterol products and no saturated fat, and the American Heart Association is still bestowing its heart-healthy seal of approval to any products that get rid of fat no matter how many carbohydrates they contain. The science has moved on. The science now is much more curious about things like inflammation as a cause of heart disease and the fact that refined carbohydrates appear to increase inflammation and metabolic syndrome. These assaults on the insulin metabolism from refined carbohydrates are perhaps a culprit.
I was surprised at how few scientists would defend this lipid hypothesis as the great answer to the questions of diet and health. Nevertheless, they move on because scientists don’t stop and come out and say, “You know, we were really all wrong about that.” They just keep moving forward. That’s the way science should work. But there should be a big disclaimer saying, “Wait till we figure this all out before you change the way you eat and before the government issues proclamations.”
Click here to read the rest of the interview.
Granted, given what he’s saying about the role of refined carbohydrates as a cause of inflammation/metabolic syndrome/heart disease the fact that I used white rice in my first recipe could be perceived as me being a bit daft. Tough cookies, kids, that’s how I roll.
Coconut oil is still a somewhat controversial topic, even in health food circles. But I think it’s worth exploring, so let’s examine the benefits of coconut oil. It’s easy to digest. It doesn’t go rancid. You can incorporate it into your beauty regimen. It has an element, lauric acid, in common with human breast milk. Lauric acid (allegedly) does all sorts of cool stuff, including: regulate body weight, decrease inflammation, increase immune response, regulate cholesterol levels, give you the power of flight, x-ray vision, etc. etc. etc. Visit the Coconut Research Center to view a list of research and decide for yourself.