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Nutrient - Coconut butter a versatile food!

By Debbie Paddington Dip ION

Most people think that fat is a bad food to include in the diet, as it may cause weight gain and high cholesterol levels. While it is true that some fats, such as trans fats, should be avoided, there are some natural fats, such as coconut butter, which actually have health benefits and may be supportive of weight management programmes. Here, we provide you with everything you need to know about bad fats, followed by the wonderful, health-giving coconut butter!

Trans fats

Adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a chemical process called hydrogenation produces trans fats, also called “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil. This process means the oil is less likely to spoil. Using trans fats in the manufacturing of foods helps them stay fresh for longer, have an extended shelf life and a less greasy feel, which is, of course, why they are used by food manufacturers, regardless of their potential health risks.

However, oils that are "fully" or "completely" hydrogenated do not contain trans fat. These oils are generally from coconut or palm and are over 90% saturated to begin with. Unlike partially hydrogenated oil, the process used to make fully or completely hydrogenated oil doesn't result in trans-fatty acids. However, if the label says just "hydrogenated" vegetable oil, it could mean the oil does contain some trans fat.


Trans fats:

  • raise your LDL cholesterol, also known as your “bad” cholesterol, and lower your "good" cholesterol, known as HDL cholesterol


  • increase a type of fat in the blood called triglycerides. A high triglyceride level may contribute to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or thickening of the artery walls, which increases the risk of stroke, diabetes, heart attack and heart disease


  • increase Lp(a) lipoprotein. Lp(a) is a type of LDL cholesterol found in the blood; trans fats make Lp(a) into smaller and denser lipid particles, which promote a build-up of plaque in your arteries


  • cause inflammation. Trans fats may increase inflammation, which is a normal process by which your body responds to injury, illness or infection

Foods that contain trans fats include some margarines, vegetable shortening, fried foods, cakes and biscuits.

Coconut butter

Coconut butter comes from the seed of the coconut palm tree, Cocos nucifera, which is grown in all parts of the tropics and subtropics and has provided the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people for generations. It has also been prescribed for centuries as a medicinal food by Ayurvedic physicians in India. When heated, the coconut butter becomes a liquid and is referred to as coconut oil.

Unlike most fats in the diet, which contain long-chain fatty acids, coconut butter contains mostly medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). The MCFA content makes the physical and chemical properties of coconut quite different from other oils and fats. Rather than storing MCFAs as fat, the body tends to use them straight away for energy; helping, in fact, to burn fat rather than increasing weight gain. They are also easily digestible, as they do not need bile to break them down.

One study, published in a 2003 issue of the International Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders, found that the MCFAs in coconut increased fat burning and calorie expenditure in obese men, and also led to diminished fat storage over a period of four weeks. In a study published in the journal Lipids, researchers found that the consumption of coconut oil by women over a period of 12 weeks helped weight loss with no adverse effects on cholesterol levels. In a further study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers comment that MCTS may be effective agents in obesity by inducing a feeling of fullness and aiding weight loss.

In population studies conducted in the South Pacific islands of Pukapuka and Tokelau near New Zealand, scientists found that although the islanders consumed between 50% and 60% of their calories from fat, most of that being saturated fat from coconuts, the overall health of the islanders was extremely good compared to western standards, and health conditions, such as high cholesterol, heart disease, colon cancer, colitis and diverticulitis, were unheard of.

Coconut oil is a major source of the antimicrobial fatty acids lauric acid and octanoic acid. Antimicrobial fatty acids are those that the body uses to kill or disable pathogenic viruses, bacteria and parasites. Nearly half of coconut oil’s fatty acids are lauric acid, which is why it is considered a lauric fat. Lauric acid is the precursor to monolaurin, the antimicrobial active lipid which acts by disrupting the lipid membranes in organisms like fungus, bacteria and viruses, thus destroying them. Lauric acid is found in high levels in breast milk, which is why it has antimicrobial properties. Coconut butter also contains caprylic, capric and caproic acid, as well as myristic acid, used in the metabolism for the stabilisation of cell protein.

Coconut oil has a high smoke point, which makes it a very stable oil and therefore excellent for cooking with, as it can be heated to high temperatures without forming trans fats. The organic virgin coconut oil also adds a delicious coconut flavour to your cooking, making it perfect for cakes or stir-fries. Or, if you prefer not to have the coconut flavour, non-virgin butter is available, which is deodorised using temperature, but under a vacuum. This process doesn’t affect the beneficial properties of the oil. Coconut oil is a great part of a raw-food diet. 

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