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Columnist
Coconut milk good for you - in small doses
By Ed Blonz | On Nutrition
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Published: 12/3/2008 12:04 AM

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Q. I drink carrot juice daily, and I've been mixing it with coconut milk purchased in a can from Henry's Market. I've read that although coconut milk has a lot of fat, this fat is different and actually healthy and good for us. My mother, though, highly disputes that and wants me to stop drinking coconut milk because she claims the fat is not good for us. What is your opinion? Thanks.

J.S., San Diego, Calif.

A. The issue would be how much of what type of coconut milk you are using. Carrot juice is a great source of nutrients, and coconut adds wonderful richness and flavor. For your blend, though, I recommend you opt for a lite coconut milk. One third of a cup of lite coconut milk contains between 4.5 and 7.8 grams of fat, depending on the brand; this is about one-fourth the fat you will find in standard coconut milk.

Anyone who has enjoyed Thai cuisine or other foods from South Asia has experienced how coconut can add wonderful flavors and textures to many dishes. We have learned that about half the fats in coconut have special qualities. They're called medium-chain triglycerides, and, as fats, they are easy to digest and metabolize.

In a previous column, I mentioned how the length of a fatty acid chain helps determine what it does in the body. Medium-chain fats, such as those found in coconut, are shorter in length than other food fats.

Even though they are saturated fats, the medium-chain fats in coconut tend to be burned as fuel rather dumped into the blood stream, where they can contribute to the risk of heart disease.

Please understand they are still calories, and if you are overeating, you will still gain weight. The bottom line is that the overall quality of your diet holds more sway than any particular ingredient. Rather than being worried about a bit of coconut every now and then, realize that the vegetables, fruits and fiber you eat help empower your body to deal with dietary fats in a way that can keep you healthy. Enjoy your carrot juice.

Q. I don't know if I am confused about trans fats. My confusion is that products list that there are no trans fats, but the ingredients list partially hydrogenated oils. When a product has partially hydrogenated oils, are those trans fats? Thanks.

G.H., via e-mail

A. It can be confusing, as people tend to think that the two terms are synonymous. Partial hydrogenation is the "hardening" process that changes a liquid oil into a semi-solid fat. During this process, some of the fatty acids turn into trans fats. It all depends on how it is done, and there are ways to remove the trans fats before the partially hydrogenated oil is used in the final food product.

As per labeling regulations, you do not have to declare the presence of trans fats unless there are at least 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving.

• Ed Blonz, Ph.D., is a nutrition scientist and the author. Write him at "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Newspaper Enterprise Association, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 or ed@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.