Thursday, June 24, 2004

Coconut Milk and Coconut Oil - is it healthy or unhealthy

A reader left a comment in one of my posts:

"It's just like making curry, where a fair amount of coconut oil is used. This is very unhealthy."
I am not sure whether the statement was in relation to his liver ailment or not, but I have my beliefs about the coconut oil that I strongly hold on to.

I came from a country where coconut is so common. It has been touted as the "Tree of Life" ever since I was in elementary school. And before any non-Filipino (or even (educated Filipinos) criticize coconut oil in front of me (who is a big fan of it), I would want him to scrutinize the physique of those who use it (mainly Asians) and those who prefer to use the polyunsaturated oils (like olive oil) in the belief that the latter is healthier.(Americans used to be slim, the increase in obesity happened only in the most recent years, and this is not only traceable to their diet, but also a significant change in their lifestyle. Obesity is now a big problem in the US. )

I vividly remember a teacher of mine in Organic Chemistry when I was in my pre-med days in UP Diliman, who, during a time that we were making hand-made soap using coconut oil, mentioned that the reason why olive oil was preferred in making those popular soaps manufactured by multinational companies was not because it was inferior; rather, resorting to coconut oil would economically benefit more the local (Filipino) industries, and kill the olive oil industry in that parent company.

So with all the marketing strategies done by all the big companies to promote their products to compete globally, no wonder there is an abundance of researches (mostly funded by the companies themselves) that "scientifically prove" that saturated fats (like coconut and soybean oil) are bad for the health and increase the risk for the development of cardiovascular diseases.

So when it comes to fat, I would like to reiterate my stand: eat the minimal recommended amount of 5% (some recommend up to 30%) of your daily TCR.

What happens when we eat the (whatever kind of )fat is that it has to be emulsified by bile salts (product of liver, stored in gall bladder, released in response to the presence of fat/oil in the gut), in order to be acted upon by digestive enzymes and finally run in the bloodstream to be distributed in the liver and other tissues for storage or for energy production. Click here for more information on fat metabolism (choose Fatty Acid Oxidation and Cholesterol and Bile Metabolism).

I read and read a lot of publications online about the coconut oil because my intuition and the lack of solid and direct evidence linking it (saturated fats in general) to atherogenesis left me uncomfortable with all that propaganda against it. I just feel that the coconut industry (of Asians) is at a disadvantage in the global competition with the Western companies primarily because of vigorous marketing by the latter.

I was finally appeased upon reading several articles, both by Filipinos and non-Filipinos:


" evidence has ever been presented to prove that coconut oil causes coronary heart disease in humans. All the evidences presented have been in various species of animals who were given coconut oil alone without the necessary dose of essential fats or PUFA that should be given, just like the essential vitamins and minerals. On the contrary, the human epidemiologic evidence proves that coconut oil is safe. Coconut eating peoples like the Polynesians (Table V) and Filipinos (Fig. I) have low cholesterol, on the average, and very low incidence of heart disease.

Health and Nutritional Benefits from Coconut Oil: An Important Functional Food for the 21st Century by Mary Enig, Ph. D. says

It is important to realize that at that time (1960s) the edible oil industry in the United States seized the opportunity to promote its polyunsaturates. The industry did this by developing a health issue focusing on Key's anti-saturated fat bias. With the help of the edible oil industry lobbying in the United States, federal government dietary goals and guidelines were adopted incorporating this mistaken idea that consumption of saturated fat was causing heart disease. This anti-saturated fat issue became the agenda of government and private agencies in the US and to an extent in other parts of the world. This is the agenda that has had such a devastating effect on the coconut industry for the past decade. Throughout the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, the anti-saturated fat rhetoric increased in intensity.

There is another aspect to the coronary heart disease picture. This is related to the initiation of the atheromas that are reported to be blocking arteries. Recent research is suggestive that there is a causative role for the herpes virus and cytomegalovirus in the initial formation of atherosclerotic plaques and the recloging of arteries after angioplasty. (New York Times 1991) What is so interesting is that the herpes virus and cytomegalovirus are both inhibited by the antimicrobial lipid monolaurin; but monolaurin is not formed in the body unless there is a source of lauric acid in the diet. Thus, ironically enough, one could consider the recommendations to avoid coconut and other lauric oils as contributing to the increased incidence of coronary heart disease.
Coconut Oil: You Want a Food Loaded with Real Health Benefits? You Want Coconut Oil by Ray Peat, Ph.D., posted in Dr. Mercola's website also gives me enough reason to stick to my practice of using coconut milk and oil as often as possible.

This page on “The Tree of Life”: The Wonderful Health Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil lists several articles that prove such claims on the wonders of the coconut oil, which comes from coconut milk, which is an extract of the coconut meat.

And I am posting this today because I am preparing my recipe page for Chicken Curry, and I have tried using the ingredients for that using beef as well. My husband loves these dishes.

And to further defend my affinity to coconut, despite my love for coconut oil and milk, and despite having delivered two kids already, I am definitely within the normal BMI category, far from being obese, my lipid levels are within normal. And I am sure a lot of Asians are, too.

Oh, addition, coconut oil is also good for massaging; coconut milk is very good in hair treatment (applied on hair for 30 minutes under a shower cap about once a month).

I have not changed my belief that coconut tree is the tree of life.


betsyg said...


I am in no way an authority about health and wellness but I have the same conviction as yours when it comes to coconut milk and oil. I know that in Bicol where my Uncle (by affinity) comes from, they cook virtually everything with coconut milk day in and day out. He is still alive and kicking after 79 years. I have been told several times that it is also high in cholesterol but I've always been inclined to believe that it was the good cholesterol, so I believe that as long as it is in moderation, it does something good to you.

Same with avocado. When I was young, we had an avocado tree that gave us the biggest fruits I've seen ever. We used to mash them with our forks, complimented with sugar and evap or Liberty condensada. Oh, those days were good. Until I moved to North America did I hear that they were actually high in cholesterol. I cannot seem to comprehend kaya lang ang aking curiosity talaga nangingibabaw. For sometime, I stopped consuming them but then my kids always reminded me that everytime we went home to the Philippines, it was one of their favorites. Lately, I've been reading that they are the good kind of cholesterol..pheww!! Now I am back to eating them pero siempre in moderation always.

I could go on and on. One of my favorite stories to my kids is that when I was young I resented so much about the fact that my mother never bought vegetables from the market. Rather, whenever she felt like eating green leafy vegetables, she'd go to our backyard and she'd be back with talbos ng kamote, lima beans, baong hukay na bunga ng kamote. The only things we bought from the market were meat and fish. Somehow I thought it was healthier to buy them from the market. How wrong I was! Well, til next time.

Sassy Lawyer said...

Yes, I agree that all the hype about coco-based products are unhealthy has to do with marketing competition.

I love coconuts. From the sweet meat and water to everything that are produced out of them. Which gives me an idea. Macaroons. :)

betsyg said...

Manang, I am from the west coast. I have a Thai Curry my officemates love to request once in a while(we have this Wednesday Lunches in our office). I am sure that your hubby will love it. Lahat ng officemates ko are caucasians(ako lang ang pinoy) and you could just imagine ang excitement nila once they know na ang recipe namin for the day is Thai Curry. Di ako mahilig magtanim kaya wa ako ma share sa 'yo. Siguro okey lang sa iyo i-email ko yung picture so at least you have an idea kung anong hitsura niya. (but it will take a while bago ako magluluto nito ulit).

bren said...

Just blog-surfing and read bayibhyap's comments about coconut milk being high in cholesterol...just wanted to correct the statement-there is no cholesterol in coconut milk or coconut oil for that matter..a tip from my lecturer(i'm a food science student) is anything that does not have a liver will not contain cholesterol

Anonymous said...

Makes sense Bren. Triglycerides nga ba ang appropriate name nito?

Anonymous said...

hi manang
bata pa po ako at ako po ay natatakot
dahil sa sakit na dumadapo sa akin.
sana po ay mtulungan nyo ako
para makabili ng best virgin coconut oil
to treat my diseases.
i wana live longer

Anonymous said...

manang,thanks for ur comment regarding coconut juice and oil but one thing i can tell u now my doctor advice me to drink more coconut juice and make it more ngaun nga im planning to put some coconut stand in our home town and to send some idea to other people that coconut is good to our health.thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

hi there Manang, i am jaycee a 16 years old from dagupan philippines, and im doing a research on how to make virgin coconut oil, becuase in our backyard we have 8 trees of coconut and i want to have an income out of it. ive tried several techniques to make it but it all fails. hope you can help me on this problem and to all bloggers my email is thank-u in advance hope you can help me. God Bless!!

Anonymous said...


I need an education. I buy cocnut oil from the local indian store. however I would love to make my own. do you use green cocc or the brown ones from the store? I live in georgia. if you have any recipes for coconut oil, please pass on, thank you.


Thai news said...

coconut milk is so good! it can but be healthy!

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