In the past I used to hear comments about coconut oil such as, “coconut oil is taboo and shouldn’t be consumed because of its saturated fat content”…”coconut oil is so fattening”…”saturated fat leads to high cholesterol and heart disease”…
Well, I’ve learned that it all depends on the TYPE of saturated fat. All saturated fats are not created equal. The type of saturated fat found in coconut is primarily medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). The Standard American Diet (SAD) is composed almost exclusively of long chain triglycerides (LCTs). MCTs are unique and beneficial in that they are easily digested, absorbed and converted to energy. This is not a new finding, in fact MCTs are major components in baby formulas, (and are also abundant in breast milk), tube feedings, and intravenous feedings (TPNs), used in hospitals to nourish and treat infants, critically ill patients, and individuals with malabsorption and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
The MCTs, like those found in coconut, are broken into medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Unlike long chain fatty acids (LCFAs), the MCFAs are almost immediately absorbed by the intestines and shipped to the liver via the portal vein. Once in the liver they are burned as fuel, acting more like carbohydrate than fat. The advantages to this are numerous. First off, being a fat there is little to no insulin response elicited upon ingestion. Secondly, unlike other fats that require more extensive breakdown, MCFAs are shuttled almost immediately to the liver and are not converted to lipoproteins for transport and storage like other fatty acids. MCFAs are used for energy and are not, for the most part, stored as body fat.
The ability of MCTs to be quickly absorbed and converted to energy makes them an exceptional fuel source for athletes. When you fuel your vehicle with “premium” gasoline the result is a smoother ride and better gas mileage. Think of MCTs like “premium” fuel. Carbohydrate is quickly digested, but burns fast, like low grade fuel. Other fat sources, while energy dense, take a long time to be converted to a usable energy form, sort of like a diesel engine, lots of power – but not as efficient. MCTs on the other hand provide the best of both worlds in that they are quickly absorbed and converted to energy and they burn longer providing a more sustained energy than carbohydrate.*
Coconut has been found to have numerous beneficial health effects due to its MCTs and overall nutrient properties. It is high in fiber and contains minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. Additionally, it is much lower in carbohydrate/sugar and contains more protein than other fruits. It is also great for boosting the immune system due to its antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties. Other benefits include stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, proper digestion and metabolism, improved dental health, weight loss, strengthened bones, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes.* Not a bad list!
Not only is virgin coconut oil beneficial for our insides, it is a fantastic moisturizer, which is why it is in so many personal care products. I personally use it all on its own, and my skin has never been softer.
I love the taste of coconut and have been putting it in my smoothies regularly. You can also melt the oil and drink it in some hot water or on its own.
So, unlike tales of the past, coconut IS a beautiful thing!!
*Sources: The Coconut Oil Miracle by Bruce Fife and Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon