Category Archives: Fad Diets

COCONUT OIL : superfood or hype?

Can I just start out by saying that I really, really, really do not like Dr Oz.

Or rather, I dislike the outrageous claims he makes on national television without having the scientific evidence and clinical research to back them up.

Last year on his show, Dr Oz told us that “superpowers” are what coconut oil is full of.

…..what???? Where did you get this, Dr. Oz????! That’s a pretty bold statement considering how little solid research we actually have.

One of the things I am most proud of as a dietitian is that we are truly focused on evidence based research. We do not (or most of us, anyway) become swayed by the fads and claims of the media. When presenting nutritional information, we carefully highlight if things are “still being researched” and use words like “potential” and “possible”. That’s because we can’t make hard and fast claims off of one or two clinical trial or a few testimonies. You cannot make guarantees that may never actually come true. It’s just wrong, not fair to the general public, and an abuse of power.

That being said, there is a decent amount of research in progress on the effects of coconut oil on the body. Some of the trials are neutral, others are supporting the benefits, but there still ISN’T enough research to make an educated claim.

Let’s go over two of the most common claims:

1# COCONUT OIL IS A CURE FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE:

Dr. George Cahill in the 60’s was the first to discover that the brain is actually able to use ketones for energy.

Why is this important?

Our brain , in normal conditions, uses glucose for energy to process information. During starvation, when our glucose supplies are depleted, our body uses its fat stores for energy and uses “ketones” instead of glucose. The problem in Alzheimer’s disease is that the brain starts to forget how to use glucose and begins to “starve”. In an ideal situation, the brain would switch to ketones for energy , avoid starvation and also the progression of disease, keeping mental function intact. Part of the reason that coconut oil has been toted as a “cure” for Alzheimer’s disease is that the oil is composed of 60% medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) which are a faster metabolizing fat that produces small amounts of ketones when broken down for energy. The problem is, this small amount of ketone production from dietary intake alone is not enough to counteract the starvation of the brain because the levels are not high enough to make a substantial difference.

There ARE documented cases of individuals (google Dr Mary Newport and her husband Steve Newport, for example) who have testimonies to the benefits of coconut oil in combatting mental diseases. But, there just isn’t enough solid research to make a true, scientific claim. The studies available are preliminary at best.
The NIH is currently in the middle of a 3 year study to determine the effects of coconut oil on adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The study is set to conclude in December 2016. I’ll definitely be following up on this one.

#2 COCONUT OIL PROMOTES WEIGHT LOSS

This claim comes from the fact that coconut oil is primarily composed of MCT’s, like I mentioned earlier. This type of fat is more easily broken down by the liver and is a quicker energy source for the body. There is some indication that this type of fat produces a mild thermogenic (calorie-burning) effect when broken down for energy.

One particular study divided two groups of obese women into one group which consumed 30ml of coconut oil and another group which consumed 30ml of soybean oil. Both groups followed a reduced calorie diet and exercise program. The group who consumed the coconut oil experienced a reduction in abdominal fat.

Yet another study involving animals found that the group of animals consuming a controlled amount of MCT’s did not experience any difference in body fat loss compared to the group consuming a placebo oil.

Another study involving 30 adults did find that those adults who consumed coconut oil as a part of their diet and exercise program did experience, on average, more fat loss than their placebo counterparts.

There are multiple smaller studies performed on the effects of MCTs on fat loss, but many of them have limitations or just simply didn’t include enough information in their trials to come up with an educated result. More research is needed to come up with a conclusion.

The take away….
Even though there’s still alot of questions unanswered, I see no harm in substituting the fat in your diet with coconut oil. I would treat it just like you would any other calorie dense item: in moderation. I think coconut oil has alot of potentially promising benefits that we just need to take with a grain of salt, and I’m really looking forward to the results of the Clinical studies that are in progress to learn more.

Thanks for reading! Would love to hear any opinions, opposition or agreement.

My references and sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19437058
https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/clinical-trials/coconut-oil-alzheimers-disease
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26667739
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25997382
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25301680
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19437058
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25865422
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25636220
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18326600

The Paleo Diet

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What is the Paleo diet?

It consists of anything that can be hunted, fished or gathered. This also means exclusion of the following : grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, salt. It is based on the premise that if we eat the way our ancestors eat, we will avoid the chronic diseases of our current generation such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, etc, and will overall be healthier.

Generally, when a diet requires you to omit entire food groups, it is a huge red flag. There are plenty of proven health benefits to be found in both dairy AND whole grains. Low fat dairy has been suggested to aid weight loss benefits in addition to providing Vitamin D and Calcium. Whole grains have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and provide a great source of fiber. Exclusion of entire food groups (ones that have proven to provide more benefits than they do harm, for that matter!) also tends to make the meal plan hard to stick with.

Dairy and grains are not the source of our diseases – Americans tend to eat these, especially grains, in excess. Anything in excess will cause problems. Completely eliminating these food groups as a response to this is not the answer.

Another thought to consider…just because our ancestors ate a particular way does not mean that it’s good for us. Nutrition is a constantly evolving science and we are making new discoveries every day. What we know about the recommended dietary guidelines for Americans tells us that an average day for the Paleo diet is lacking in carbohydrates and exceeds the recommendations for protein and fat.

Elaborating on my previous point, how exactly did this author of the Paleo diet determine just what our “ancestors” ate?
Considering the following information, the premise of the book is a bit off:
Depending on the climate, the diet varied widely. Archeological scientist Christina Warinner goes into more detail in her TEDTalk, “Debunking the Paleo Diet.” The diet “has no basis in archeological reality.” Artic dwellers ate more meat; those in Mexico ate legumes, fruits, nuts, and beans and flowers. Their wild game consumption mostly included rabbits. Warmer climates had a higher plant consumption. My point being, that the diet of paleolithic times cannot be limited to what the author of the Paleo diet has specified. There were so many variations based on the climate that there is no “one diet” of this time period.

Am I completely against the Paleo diet?

No.

I think it has a lot of wonderful components. It encourages the consumption of fruits and veggies, which the majority of Americans are lacking. It encourages the follower to avoid added sugars (recommendations are 10% or less of total calories) and excess salt.

Will you lose weight? Probably, but only if you work a calorie deficit into your plan.

If anything, I’d recommend taking the good aspects of the Paleo diet (avoiding added sugars, avoiding processed white flour, and loading up on fruits & veggies) and tweak the aspects of it that science really doesn’t support (dairy & grains are not bad, people.) What you end up with won’t really be the “Paleo” diet, but it’ll be a diet supported by science – more good for the long haul and less jumping on the fad diet bandwagon.

Resources used in the development of this article:

Ted Talks

EatRight