Tuesday, December 18, 2012


   For many folks peanut is one of those comfort food that brings back childhood memories. For me consuming peanuts reminds me of my family and winter months; that is when the street vendors came by and sold roasted warm peanuts. What can I say, we all like to hold on to some of our past, may it be only peanuts....Peanuts are also one of the staple snack foods sold in many recreational sporting events like baseball. Texas Road House, a national steak house chain offers peanuts by the buckets, while patrons are waiting for their steaks to arrive they can consume a heap of peanuts. Peanut oil, cotton seed oil, soybean oil, and sunflower seed oil are few of the most common oils used in commercial cooking today. You can pick up any commercially packaged snack like potato chips or trail mix and you will most likely find one of these oils on the ingredient list. Cashews, almonds, and many other snack foods popular in the hiking circles sold at local grocery stores often are fried and coated in peanut oil. Nuts are also a popular snack choice in the paleo circles. The folks who are just starting out on paleo tend to snack on almonds, cashews, and other nuts in between meals to fight the hunger pangs. The health industry and governmental agencies also present nuts as positive healthy choice for snacking. Most breakfast cereals loaded with sugars often tout a crunchy nutty bite, or heart healthy benefit as a ploy to sell their product. Are nuts healthy snacking choice? Should we consume peanuts by a bucketload while sitting waiting for our steak to arrive? The answer is----absolutely NOT----overall, nuts and seeds are a poor snacking choice and their consumption should be kept to an absolute minimum, and let's get this out of the way, peanuts are not nuts but legumes, and for multiple reasons discussed below, they should be avoided.

   In order to understand the nutritional value of nuts and seeds a simple pros and cons list must be compiled before the nut or seed can be labeled good or bad. Here are the first set of cons, most nuts and seeds contain anti-nutrients, phytic acids, enzyme blockers, and bad proteins. The oils or fats extracted from these nuts and seeds are high in polyunsaturated fats, especially in omega 6. Once again, the society has long demonized saturated fats and crowned polyunsaturated fats as heart healthy. So by default, the nuts and seeds receive a passing mark from the nutritionists and from the governmental authorities. Phytic acids is nature's way of keeping a nut or seed from germinating before the conditions are just right. This is a survival mechanism built in most seeds and nuts. Phytic acids can be eliminated from nuts and seeds by soaking them in warm salty water for few hours. Phytic acid acts in our digestive system as a mineral binding agent. Phytic acid binds to calcium, iron, and magnesium and does not allow these minerals to be absorbed in our bodies. So some nuts that are naturally high in these minerals are nutritionally useless because phytic acid keeps the minerals bound and unavailable for absorption. Phytic acid problem is easily solved by soaking the nuts and seeds in salty water. But, the other anti-nutrients, and bad proteins are a problem, and can not be eliminated easily. The anti-nutrients and bad proteins are purely defense mechanisms for the plant to protect itself. The bad proteins like lectins cause gut irritation, and lead to systemic inflammation in our gut. The third and the last problem with nuts and seeds are the polyunsaturated fats in their oils. So as most nuts contain good source of carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, but their beneficial nutrients are bound by phytic acids and are unavailable to the consumer.

   Getting back to the peanuts, there are more serious problems with peanuts. Peanuts like many other cereal grains and corn are susceptible to mold or a fungus. This fungus only grows when peanuts are not stored properly. It is not a big issue in the United States but it is a big problem in many third world countries where food storage procedure and methods are sub par. This particular mold evolves into aflatoxin, a carcinogen known to cause liver cancer in the rats. Aflatoxin poisoning cases have been reported in the United States, but there is still no conclusive link to liver cancer in humans caused by this carcinogen  Most likely consumption of peanuts few times will not cause aflatoxin toxicity, we are talking about  a long time consumption, basically a chronic situation. Again the food storage procedures and methods are better in the United States than in the third world countries. There are actually lot more cases of hepatitis, infection of the liver, in the sub-continent countries. I personally believe the hepatitis is caused by bad food supply and aflatoxins may play a major role in it. Many of these hepatitis cases may eventually develop into liver cancer, again due to bad data and lack of better diagnosis, many of these cases may go unreported. Another major problem with peanuts is that it contains many allergens. If a person can have a severe allergic reaction like stop breathing after consuming peanuts, that is reason enough for me to eliminate peanuts from my diet. Why people develop peanut allergy is still unknown and the only treatment is to vigilantly monitor all food intakes. We are not done with peanuts yet, the last problem with peanuts is their bad lipid profile. Peanuts contain a high amount of polyunsaturated fats high in omega 6. The polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and react with oxygen in our body to create free radical particles that end up causing problems in the gut and also end up binding to many useful minerals and vitamins. However, most often peanut oil is touted as a healthy cooking choice.

   The final verdict on the peanuts from a paleo perspective is not favorable. With all of the cons listed above the nutritional value left behind is very marginal and not optimal. Anytime, there is a potential for allergens, carcinogens, and polyunsaturated fats, that food can not be good for us. There are plenty of vitamins and minerals in peanuts but they are bound by phytic acid and are simply not available for the body to absorb. Recommendation is to eliminate peanuts all together and use other nuts sparingly. A handful of macadamias, cashews, almonds, walnuts, and pecans eaten occasionally for snack is perfectly OK, but should not be a substitute for good healthy fats, proteins, vegetables, and seasonal fruits. Beware of healthy snack packages sold in supermarkets, most of the salad dressings, potato chips, trail mix, and nuts use peanut and soybean oil. In the light of above evidence my paleo vote is cast against this legume.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Virtues of Coconut Oil (Lauric Acid)

   If you are like me perusing the internet and reading book after book on the paleo subject, most likely you will begin to see the word coconut appear everywhere. The use of coconut is heavily promoted in the paleo circles. Many paleo authors recommend the use of coconut oil for daily consumption. So what is the big deal with this fruit? Some claim coconut to be a miracle fruit. Hundreds of island cultures around the globe have practically lived on this fruit for centuries and have thrived. In my teen years, my dad always told me to use coconut oil for hand lotion and use the oil in my hair; of course, all of his advices falling on deaf teen ears. And now years later, I use coconut oil regularly on my face, hands, and even as deodorant. I have even started using coconut oil for tooth paste and it does not taste bad. I usually start with a regular tooth paste and then finish off with a dab of coconut oil. The oil coats the gums and the teeth and after a short time gets absorbed in the gum tissues in the mouth. So what makes this fruit so wonderful? From the paleo perspective, the lauric acid contained in the coconut fat is of interest. I am not going to hash out and list all the benefits of lauric acid in this post, there are literally hundreds of websites dedicated on the subject of coconut, this blogpost will only focus on the antioxidant cancer fighting ability of lauric acid.

   Before diving into the benefits of lauric acid few words about the coconut itself are in order. Coconut is commonly grown in temperate climates and is considered a tropical fruit. Coconut is not a nut or a seed but it is technically a drupe. The center of a drupe fruit is a hard pit around which the fleshy part of the fruit grows. The word or term coconut is derived from Spanish and Portuguese word "coco", which means "monkey face". The plant is known by many other names around the world. In the Asian subcontinent region, the fruit is known as "nariyal", and is used in many desserts. Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, proteins, and fats. The oil extracted from the fleshy part of the coconut is saturated fat and remains solid at room temperature. However, the mainstream nutritional world still maintains the same rhetoric that saturated fats cause heart disease and obesity. Since, coconut oil is saturated fat, it is simply catalogued in the demonic foods of the societies. The coconut yields four distinct products without any processing:
  • The outer hard shell of the coconut can be used for fuel.
  • The coconut meat can be consumed. The dried meat is called copra and it is commonly used in desserts. There are literally 1001 uses for the coconut meat. Be careful, coconut meat does contain lectins that may cause gut irritation.
  • The coconut water is refreshing and can be consumed. The water contains many electrolytes. A mere 3.5 ounce serving yields about 250 mg of potassium. The coconut water is so pure that it can be administered via IV intravenous drip. It is commonly used to treat dehydrated patients. Some island cultures call this the water of life.
  • The coconut meat lightly crushed and combined with its water yields coconut milk. It serves as the bases for many soups and curries. A popular cooking item in Thai food. Many paleo recipes call for the coconut cream.
   Coconut oil is where things get interesting. Coconut oil is composed of 12 chain long fatty acid also known as lauric acid. Lauric acid has antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antioxidant qualities. Lauric acid is also known as the medium chain fatty acid and is found in palm oil and breast milk. Lauric acid does tend to raise LDL cholesterol level, but again cholesterol is nothing to be feared if you are on no grain diet and have no systemic inflammation. Lauric acid gets absorbed via small intestine and is transported directly to the liver, where it is used for manufacturing cholesterol and various hormones. The long chain fatty acids like saturated fats must first be broken down by the bile and then enter the lymphatic system before they are fully absorbed by the body. So medium chain lauric acid serves as a good substitute for people who have fat absorption issues; mostly issues with the bile. Here are few benefits of lauric acid:
  • Lauric acid has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and antioxidant qualities. These attributes are especially helpful for infants who are prone to infectious diseases in their early days. Breast milk rich with lauric acid keeps an infant healthy and gives him a fighting chance for survival. 
  • Lauric acid in the body is converted to monolaurin, a monoglyceride that disrupts the cell membranes of bacteria, viruses, and fungus cells, basically destroying these cells.
  • Coconut oil serves as a poor man's sun tan lotion.
  • Coconut oil is a great substitue for lotions and deodorants.
  • Coconut oil improves the kidney functions and prevents gout. 
  • The antioxidant qualities of lauric acid help fight various types of cancers.
   The rest of this blogpost will focus on lauric acid's unique ability in fighting various types of cancers. I have always maintained a stance that western world has far more cases of breast cancer than the third world countries. The reason is the lack of or the length of lactational period for the new borns. In the modern technologically advanced countries, the mothers end up going back to work 3 to 6 months after the birth of their child. The children are weaned off from breast milk within this time and are put on the bottle and the formula. Even the full time mothers end up weaning their children off from breast feeding within a short period of time. There maybe a host of reasons why this happens. Mostly economics, because most households in the western countries depend on multiple incomes. Both mom and dad have to work and have careers. In the third world, this luxury is simply not available. Most women do not work and are full time mothers. In the third world countries a new born is breast fed for up to two years. I personally believe this extended length of lactational period prevents the breast cancer cases in the third world countries. To support my theory here are couple of noteworthy facts about lauric acid:
  • Breast milk contains lauric acid. The lauric acid's anti-oxidant quality prevents the cancerous cells formation in the breast. The newborn with a weak developing immune system remains free from infections because lauric acid also has antibacterial, and antiviral properties. The new born also receives nourishment from the sugars and proteins in the breast milk. Breast feeding also develops a bond between the mother and the infant. 
  • An infant's body is able to manufacture lactase, an enzyme that digests lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in the breast milk. Amazing, after two years, the production of lactase stops automatically. A good thing, because, we were not designed to drink mother's milk all our lives. Nature cleverly covers its tracks.
     Another reason for breast cancer in the western societies is the overuse of antiperspirant deodorant. The copious amount of deodorant applied to the arm pit blocks the sweat from escaping the body. The arm pit in close proximity to the breast causes the sweat to seep back in the fatty tissues of the breast. Now it is a matter of time before the toxins in the sweat end up forming a cancerous cell. Since, the breast is mostly composed of fatty tissue, there is ample amount of food for the cancer cells to feed on an multiply. The cancer cells eventually end up causing a lump that may not be easily detected for a while or until it is too late. I personally use a dab of coconut oil in my arm pits and advise my wife to do the same. The dab of coconut oil delivers a nice supply of lauric acid to the arm pit area. The anti-fungal and antibacterial properties of the lauric acid help keep the arm pits clean and from developing bad smells that are usually caused by the bacteria. The antioxidants in lauric acid protect the local tissues and keeps cancerous cells away. The skin breaths fine and the sweat is allowed to escape the body. The beneficial antioxidant property of lauric acid is useful in solving many gut problems and may even help fight colon cancer.

   Coconut was probably not available to our paleo forefathers, but there is no reason for us to not enjoy this fruit. The medium chain lauric acid is beneficial for the human body and having a moderate dose in your diet will not harm you. The popular claim that coconut is the ultimate food is most likely anecdotal. Coconut does not agree with all. For me eating more than few ounces of coconut meat causes my stomach to knot up and is very unpleasant. It is probably caused by the lectins in the coconut meat, to which I am surely allergic to. But coconut oil fully agrees with me. I usually purchase an organic jar from my local Asian supermarket. I use a dab on my salads, on my steaks, and a tea spoon full on my eggs. The jar usually lasts me couple of months. I have a small container of coconut oil on my bathroom sink. I use that for lotion and deodorant purposes. So if coconut products agree with you then by all means use them and enjoy its benefits, there are no harms. But if you see allergic reaction then go back to the paleo tract and nourish the body with fats, proteins, and carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits. Our bodies are genetically designed to consume these nutrients. I have never seen anybody get allergic to meats and fats. Just remember the golden rule, if it has a face, it is paleo.