When “Bad” Fats Are Good for You
Remember how great movie theater popcorn used to taste? That’s because of the oil most theaters used to pop their popcorn. But that oil was loaded with saturated fat. So was the “butter flavoring” theaters added to their popcorn.
Back in the early 1990’s, Americans became more health-conscious. Saturated fats became the enemy. And consumer groups targeted movie theaters for their heavy use of oils containing saturated fats.
So, under pressure, theaters started popping their corn in a “much healthier” type of fat… trans fat.
Of course, we now know that switching to trans fats was a big mistake. Trans fats are tremendously unhealthy. And they don’t occur in nature. They’re cobbled together in the laboratory – in much the same way Dr. Frankenstein created his famous monster.
Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to improve food texture and to give them a higher melting point. But meddling with these fats is also what makes them increase your “bad” cholesterol levels so much… while lowering your “good” cholesterol.
Unfortunately, before everyone realized how awful trans fats really were, companies had added them to practically everything: margarine, packaged foods, baked goods, microwave popcorn, oil for deep frying… the list goes on forever.
So now we’ve started pulling the trans fats out of our foods and looking for a replacement. Most food producers have settled on interesterified fats.
Like trans fats, interesterified fats aren’t natural. They’re altered – either with chemicals or enzymes – to suit commercial food producers’ needs. And some studies show they may be just as unhealthy as trans fats.
In one study, for example, adding these unnatural fats to people’s diets increased their blood sugar by almost 20%. And it boosted their “bad” cholesterol, too.1 A recent Canadian study found interesterified fats may be particularly dangerous for people who are overweight.2
So what’s the answer? You might be surprised. It just may be going back to where we started.
You see, that “bad” oil movie theaters used to pop their corn in was coconut oil. Yes – the same coconut oil that’s recently been linked to weight loss.3
Coconut and palm oils – so-called “tropical oils” – are loaded with saturated fats. But they’re not like other saturated fats. They’re a type of fat called medium-chain fatty acids… and these saturated fats are actually good for you! People in the tropics have been eating them for countless generations without any bad health effects.
In Sri Lanka, for example, the coconut tree is called the “Tree of Life” – and people there get about 80% of their fat from coconut oil.4 Yet heart problems are far less common in Sri Lanka than in the US. And – in spite of eating all this saturated fat – the people there are much thinner.
Chances are, coconut oil is a big part of the reason. When researchers in Brazil added coconut oil to the diets of overweight women last year, their “good” cholesterol levels shot up… and their waistlines shrank.5
And in animal studies, coconut oil promotes:
- Lower “bad” cholesterol
- Higher “good” cholesterol6
- Higher antioxidant levels7
Yes, trans fats are awful. But I don’t see how switching to another unnatural fat – such as interesterified fats – is the answer. The evidence seems to say we’d be much healthier if we went back to the old “unhealthy” fats.
Dr. Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
Best Life Herbals
1 Sundram K, et al. Stearic acid-rich interesterified fat and trans-rich fat raise the LDL/HDL ratio and plasma glucose relative to palm olein in humans. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2007 Jan 15;4:3.
2 Robinson DM, et al. Influence of interesterification of a stearic acid-rich spreadable fat on acute metabolic risk factors. Lipids. 2009 Jan;44(1):17-26. Epub 2008 Nov 4.
3 St-Onge M-P and Jones PJH. Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. International Journal of Obesity (2003) 27, 1565–1571.
4 Amarasiri WA and Dissanayake AS. Coconut fats. Ceylon Med J. 2006 Jun;51(2):47-51.
5 Assunção ML, et al. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids. 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601. Epub 2009 May 13.
6 Nevin KG and Rajamohan T. Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation. Clinical Biochemistry, Volume 37, Issue 9, September 2004, Pages 830-835.
7 Nevin KG and Rajamohan T. Virgin coconut oil supplemented diet increases the antioxidant status in rats. Food Chemistry, Volume 99, Issue 2, 2006, Pages 260-266.