Is Coconut Oil All It’s Cracked Up To Be? Get The Facts On This Faddish Fat

April Fulton wrote . . . . . . . . .

In the past few years, coconut oil has been called a superfood that can help you blast belly fat and raise your good cholesterol. The sweet and nutty trendsetter has been featured in many cookbooks as a substitute for olive or canola oil — and it can cost a bundle at the store.

A recent survey found that 72 percent of Americans say coconut oil is a “healthy food,” but many nutrition experts aren’t convinced.

The problem is that coconut oil contains a lot of saturated fat — the kind that is a big risk factor for heart disease, which kills more than 17 million people a year worldwide.

First, let’s talk about fat. “In terms of calories, all fats are the same: butter, coconut oil, olive oil. They all have the same number of calories, but they are different in terms of your health,” says Mary Donkersloot, a Beverly Hills nutritionist and host of a weekly Web video series called The Smart Eating Show.

Fat is not the enemy of our diets, despite what we were led to believe in the 1990s, when low-fat cookies and ice cream started popping up on the market. (Remember the SnackWell’s craze?) Fat helps us feel full longer and stay satisfied. Eating some fat can actually help us snack less and potentially lose weight. But what kind of fat we eat matters — and how much.

In fact, one tablespoon of coconut oil has 12 grams of saturated fat — a big chunk of what is recommended for the whole day, says Donkersloot.

The U.S. government recommends keeping saturated fat below 10 percent of your total daily calories. For some people, that can be as low as 22 grams a day, although the American Heart Association recommends going even lower — more like 13 grams. So just one tablespoon of coconut oil gets you much of the way there. Forget dessert!

The concern about too much saturated fat in our diets is upheld by 50 years of research showing that a diet high in saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, says Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at the Friedman School at Tufts University who also runs the university’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory.

Lichtenstein and her colleagues looked at several studies examining what happens when people replaced saturated fats found in foods like tropical oils and meat with unsaturated fats like those in olive oil, canola oil and flaxseed oil. As they reported in a recent American Heart Association advisory, those studies showed that making the swap was linked with a 30 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s similar to what people can expect when they take statins, she says. The advisory was published in the journal Circulation.

So why does the idea that coconut oil is somehow good for us persist? No one is really sure.

“Why things like coconut oil somehow slipped under the radar is a little bit unclear, but it’s not consistent with any of the recommendations that have occurred over the past 30, 40, 50 years,” says Lichtenstein.

While some research has linked the main type of saturated fatty acid in coconut oil — lauric acid — to increased levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, it still raises LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, she notes in the advisory, citing multiple studies.

And while enthusiasts point out that coconut oil is rich in antioxidants, there is little evidence that once the oil is refined, which is how most of us buy it in the store, those properties are retained.

Some research suggesting that saturated fat might be more neutral than previously thought has caused a few to question the American Heart Association and the government’s recommendations on saturated fat.

But Lichtenstein and many others are not convinced. She says those studies did not take into account the kinds of foods replacing saturated fats in the diet, and that the saturated fat factor trumps the potential benefits of coconut oil.

So, if you like to cook with coconut oil, that’s fine — “once in a while. If you’re making Thai, go for it,” says Donkersloot.

But don’t think of coconut oil as a health elixir. And remember that when it comes to good nutrition, including fats, it’s all about balance, Lichtenstein says. And there’s more solid evidence behind the healthfulness of other plant-based oils such as extra virgin olive oil.

With the rise in popularity of low-carb diets embracing more fat in recent years, it’s no wonder consumers are confused about which fats are best. And most oils contain more than one variety of fat. Iowa State University has a handy chart to help you compare the percentages of fats found in common oils.

Source: npr


Spanish-style Cod with Onion and Bell Peppers


1 lb cod fillet or similar white fish, such as haddock, skinned
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, sliced fine
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
salt and white pepper
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp sugar


  1. Cut the fish into bite-size pieces.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet and fry the fish until just done, then transfer it to a glass or ceramic dish.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet, add the onion, and cook until soft but not browned.
  4. Stir in the mushrooms and peppers and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes -the vegetables should remain crisp.
  5. Spoon the vegetables over the fish and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  6. Pour the vinegar and water into the skillet and bring to a boil. Add the sugar, stir until dissolved, then pour over the fish and vegetables. Allow to cool then cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Serve with crusty olive bread.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Onions

In Pictures: Food of Cloudland Chinese Cuisine (雲來軒) in Hong Kong

Modern Fusion Chinese Cuisine

The Restaurant

Scientists Hacked Photosynthesis In Search Of More Productive Crops

Dan Charles wrote . . . . . . . . .

There’s a big molecule, a protein, inside the leaves of most plants. It’s called Rubisco, which is short for an actual chemical name that’s very long and hard to remember.

Amanda Cavanagh, a biologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, calls herself a big fan of Rubisco. “It’s probably the most abundant protein in the world,” she says. It’s also super-important.

Rubisco has one job. It picks up carbon dioxide from the air, and it uses the carbon to make sugar molecules. It gets the energy to do this from the sun. This is photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to make food, a foundation of life on Earth. Yay for Rubisco!

“But it has what we like to call one fatal flaw,” Cavanagh continues. Unfortunately, Rubisco isn’t picky enough about what it grabs from the air. It also picks up oxygen. “When it does that, it makes a toxic compound, so the plant has to detoxify it.”

Plants have a whole complicated chemical assembly line to carry out this detoxification, and the process uses up a lot of energy. This means the plant has less energy for making leaves, or food for us. (There is a family of plants, including corn and sugar cane, that developed another type of workaround for Rubisco, and those plants are much more productive.)

Cavanagh and her colleagues in a research program called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), which is based at the University of Illinois, have spent the last five years trying to fix Rubisco’s problem. “We’re sort of hacking photosynthesis,” she says.

They experimented with tobacco plants, just because tobacco is easy to work with. They inserted some new genes into these plants, which shut down the existing detoxification assembly line and set up a new one that’s way more efficient. And they created super tobacco plants. “They grew faster, and they grew up to 40 percent bigger” than normal tobacco plants, Cavanagh says. These measurements were done both in greenhouses and open-air field plots.

The scientists now are trying to do the same thing with plants that people actually rely on for food, like tomatoes and soybeans. They also working with cowpeas, or black-eyed peas, “because it’s a staple food crop for a lot of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, which is where our funders are interested in making the biggest impact,” Cavanagh says.

The funders of this project include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Disclosure: The Gates Foundation also funds NPR.) The USDA has applied for a patent on plants that are engineered in this way.

Cavanagh and her colleagues published their work this week in the journal Science. Maureen Hanson, who is carrying out similar research on photosynthesis at Cornell University, was impressed.

“This is a very important finding,” she says. “It’s really the first major breakthrough showing that one can indeed engineer photosynthesis and achieve a major increase in crop productivity.”

It will be many years, though, before any farmers plant crops with this new version of photosynthesis. Researchers will have to find out whether it means that a food crop like soybeans actually produces more beans — or just more stalks and leaves.

Then they’ll need to convince government regulators and consumers that the crops are safe to grow and eat.

Source: npr

Researchers Discover Biological Markers that Could Guide Treatment for Prostate Cancer

Susan Buckles wrote . . . . . . . . .

Genetic alterations in low-risk prostate cancer diagnosed by needle biopsy can identify men that harbor higher-risk cancer in their prostate glands, Mayo Clinic has discovered. The research, which is published in the January edition of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found for the first time that genetic alterations associated with intermediate- and high-risk prostate cancer also may be present in some cases of low-risk prostate cancers.

The study found the needle biopsy procedure may miss higher-risk cancer that increases the risk of disease progression. Researchers say that men diagnosed with low-risk cancer may benefit from additional testing for these chromosomal alterations.

“We have discovered new molecular markers that can help guide men in their decisions about the course of their prostate cancer care,” says George Vasmatzis, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Individualized Medicine Biomarker Discovery Program and lead author on the study. “Overtreatment has been issue for the group of men that our study targets. We found that the presence of genetic alterations in low-risk cancer can help men decide whether treatment or active surveillance is right for them.”

Prostate cancer is assessed by Gleason patterns and score that indicate grade. The Gleason patterns are strongly associated with risk of disease progression. Gleason pattern 3 prostate cancer is considered to be low-risk. Gleason patterns 4 and 5 cancer carry a higher risk of aggressive behavior.

Men whose tumor is composed entirely of Gleason pattern 3 may choose active surveillance. They are monitored closely with blood tests and needle biopsies, as necessary. Or they may be referred to treatment, such as surgery and radiation, particularly if they have Gleason pattern 4 or 5.

Men with a low-risk cancer sometimes choose surgery because they don’t want to risk disease progression. The study found that men who do not have these alterations in their cancers have a low risk of harboring aggressive disease. These men may feel more comfortable choosing active surveillance. Alternatively, if a man’s low-risk tumor shows these alterations, they have a higher risk that their cancer may progress. They may consider treatment, including surgery.

The research

Researchers performed DNA sequencing with a high-tech genomic tool known as mate-pair sequencing. This research was performed on specific Gleason patterns from frozen cancer specimens from 126 men who had their prostate glands removed. They found five genes are more frequently altered in Gleason patterns 4 and 5. These alterations were found more commonly in Gleason pattern 3 associated with higher Gleason patterns and not when Gleason pattern 3 was found alone.

“The needle biopsy procedure samples only a small portion of the tumor. It is not uncommon that a man with a Gleason pattern 3 on needle biopsy specimen harbors a higher-grade cancer next to the pattern 3 that was missed by the procedure,” says John Cheville, M.D., co-director of the Center for Individualized Medicine Biomarker Discovery Program and co-author of the study. “Therefore, if we identify these alterations in a Gleason pattern 3, there is a higher likelihood that Gleason pattern 4 is nearby.”

Researchers took the genetic information generated using mate pair sequencing and converted it into a test called “fluorescence in situ hybridization” (FISH) that validated the genetic alterations in clinical samples. The FISH test is available for Mayo patients.

Source: Mayo Clinic

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