Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Over the last two weeks (in “Oil Changes: Part 1” and “Part 2”) we’ve explored several different kinds of edible oils and hopefully expanded your horizons a little. I’m going to wrap things up on oils this week with a look at two other oils that you may or may not be familiar with.

Let’s start off with flaxseed oil. Where does this oil come from? The flax plant, of course. Flax is an ancient plant, dating back to the Stone Age. Flax fibers are used to make paper and fabric. Artists use linseed oil, which is derived from flaxseed, in oil paint.

You may have heard or read a lot about flaxseed and its health benefits. Flaxseed oil is rich in an essential fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA for short. ALA has two other cousins, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These three fatty acids are omega-3 fatty acids, which you may know better as fish oils (although ALA isn’t found in fish). Omega-3 fatty acids have heart-health benefits, as they have been shown to help lower triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, prevent irregular heartbeats, and reduce the risk of heart attack. In addition, they can also help reduce inflammation in the body and therefore help improve symptoms of certain inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in the behavioral and cognitive development of infants and children, too. Unlike omega-3’s, omega-6 fatty acids (found in most vegetable oils) may actually promote inflammation in the body. Therefore, it’s important to get the right balance of omega-3’s and omega-6’s. Nutrition experts recommend we aim for 2–4 times more omega-6’s than omega-3’s. The problem is that the typical American diet contains more like 15–25 times more omega-6’s than omega-3’s.

Back to flaxseed oil, then. This oil has a slightly nutty, sweet flavor. It needs to be kept refrigerated in a dark bottle to prevent it from going rancid, and it’s only good for about six weeks, so buy this oil in small amounts. Also, flaxseed oil can’t be used in cooking, but it can be used on foods after cooking, as a salad dressing, or for dipping bread.

The other oil I wanted to mention briefly is coconut oil. Coconut oil is a mostly saturated fat that comes from the inner flesh of the coconut. Because it’s so saturated, coconut “oil” tends to be found in a solid, rather than liquid, form. It’s frequently used in cosmetics and body- and hair-care products as a moisturizer.

Years ago, the American Heart Association first labeled coconut oil as an unhealthy form of fat due to its saturated fat content and, subsequently, its link to heart disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Medical Association advise against using this oil in our diets as well. However, some researchers claim that the saturated fatty acids in this oil are different than the ones found in, say, red meat or cheese, and therefore it’s not as bad as we think. Other researchers claim that coconut oil, in its virgin (nonhydrogenated) state, may actually help people with thyroid disease, HIV, and even those who are trying to lose weight.

Interestingly, one coconut oil Web site from the UK claims that using coconut oil can actually help people with diabetes “stabilize blood sugars” and is the only oil that should be used if you have diabetes. Of course, no research is cited to back up these claims.

The bottom line is that, because there are no good, randomized clinical trials available showing that coconut oil is not harmful or is beneficial in some way, it’s probably a good idea to limit its use until we learn more about it.

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Comments
  1. EDIBLE COCONUT oil is used for cooking. It can found in both solid and liquid form depending on the room temperature. Oils used in cosmetics is solvent extracted oil not fit for consumption bby humans

    Posted by RANGANATH |
  2. Can the coconut oil be used in baking? I have a modified recipe for a low-carb apple cake I bake a Christmas. Coconut oil might bring in an interesting flavor.

    Posted by Ephrenia |
  3. Hi Ephrenia,

    I’ll admit that I’ve never tried coconut oil, so I can’t answer your question as to whether it imparts a coconut flavor or not. My suggestion is to make your cake with a heart-healthy oil, such as canola oil, and if you truly want to add coconut flavor, add a little coconut extract or some grated, unsweetened coconut. Again, there is no good evidence yet that coconut oil is safe in terms of heart-health.

    Posted by acampbell |
  4. MCT’s, especially those in coconut oil, are not stored in the way that other saturated fats are

    Rather, they are immediately metabolized by the liver and used as an instant (and might I add, very noticeable) source of energy.

    Posted by cmbmick |
  5. MCT oil, derived from coconut oil, is typically used by people who have difficulty digesting or absorbing fat. Unless you have a gastrointestinal or liver disorder, there’s no real reason to use this. It’s also fairly expensive compared to other vegetable oils. And, it’s still 100% fat so it’s no lower in total fat or calories than other oils. Coconut oil hasn’t been shown, in clinical trials, to offer any real health benefits. Most of the evidence of its “benefits” are from testimonials and haven’t been replicated in scientific studies. A small amount of the fatty acids that make up coconut oil apparently don’t raise cholesterol levels, but this fat is still 92% saturated fat. Pure coconut oil is probably less “harmful” than butter, but, again, it’s still 100% fat and needs to be used sparingly if used. Until we learn more, you’re better off using monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oils.

    Posted by acampbell |
  6. I’ve found a reference to some research into what coconut oil helps:

    http://www.coconut-oil.ws/node/901

    Not much evidence for it helping diabetes yet, though.

    Posted by Robert Miles |
  7. Thanks Robert. However, it’s interesting to note that the website you’ve shared is an industry-sponsored website, so it’s not completely unbiased. Again, I think we need to learn more about coconut oil and how helpful and/or harmful it really is. My advice is to use it with caution, if at all, until there is some industry-neutral research that gives us some more definitive answers.

    Posted by acampbell |
  8. Curiously, reading all the hype on how great coconut oil is, I added 1/2 tsp coconut oil to 1/2 tsp of ground flax seeds about 3 times a day with food…because the flax seeds supposedly provide a missing ingredient necessary for it’s best use.

    Shortly thereafter, I experienced a mildly distressing inner leg pain, which accelerated upon each use.

    On the 3rd night, being kind of wide awake, I got up, and experimented, and ingested 1/2 tsp oil and 1/2 tsp flax ground, and thereafter fell right asleep, but during the night I had such severe nocturnal sweating that I had to actually change my heavy cotton long sleeved night shirt, it was so wet. That has never happened to me before.

    No more coconut oil for me. I don’t believe the natural ground flax seeds were the causative factor, because they were all au naturel, and I suspicion the coconut oil as it’s processed, even though it says it’s ‘natural’, it has to go through the processing stages which are quite extensive. I think I’ll stick to coconut milk or the fresh or dried meat. That leg distress and the night sweats are too much for me.

    If anyone would care to comment on this, I’d be happy to read what you have to say. This site appears to be very honest and straightforward, not like some other advertising-fueled sites.

    Posted by Francey |
  9. CORRECTION, PLEASE

    I unwittingly blamed the coconut oil for my unhappy problem.
    It was not the coconut oil, it was the flax seeds. Judge for yourself by this comment I found in a nutritional site.

    Quote: Do not take any omega-6 oils such as flaxseed or primrose oil. The omega-6 oils cancel the benefits of the good omega-3 fat. Solid scientific research shows omega-6 fatty acids are highly inflammatory and should never be eaten by anyone with bowel disease, heart disease, arthritis or any other autoimmune disease. Healthy people should seriously limit these omega-6 fatty acids.

    Ingesting that finely ground flax seed certainly did cause an inflammatory condition, nothing I’d want to go through again.
    Hard to believe. It certainly pays to keep looking for information to clear up questions one has on certain foods one ingests. The same site goes on to encourage the ingestion of coconut products. I’ll write again if my using coconut oil again causes any more problems.

    Bye. Francey

    Posted by Francey |
  10. There is a real good article by Dr. Mary Newport about her husband having Alzheimer’s Disease and how coconut oil is the one thing that has stopped the progression and reversed it partly. The Article is called

    What If There was a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and No One Knew?

    I am sorry I did not take down the address of Dr. Mary Newport but if you scan the web on coconut oil benefits you will find it. Or better yet type in that heading and hit search and it should take you to it and the scientific data.
    Valere West

    Posted by Valere West |

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