For more than 50 years, eating “fat-free” was all the rage. The popular belief was that if it had fat in it, then you should avoid it. Even the foods that contain healthy fats that many of us love to eat today, like avocado and walnuts, were demonized. And yes, coconut oil included.
But many of us love to enjoy coconut oil as part of our healthy diets, and there’s a good reason.
History of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has been consumed for many generations, in large amounts among the Polynesian populations, where cardiovascular disease is very uncommon. A high saturated diet from coconuts has shown no adverse effects on these populations. Other studies involving African and South Pacific populations, whose diets contain large proportions of coconut oil, have revealed that there is no association between the ingestion of coconut oil and the occurrence of obesity or unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Previous studies, more than 40 years ago, found coconut oil to be unhealthy due to the fact that the oil was hydrogenated (heat treated and processed). The oil we recommend is virgin, unrefined coconut oil.
Why We Love It
Coconut oil is high in medium chained fatty-acids (MCT), primarily lauric acid (49%) along with caprylic acid and capric acid. Coconut oil is nature’s richest source of lauric acid, the next highest source is human breast milk.
Medium chain fatty acids are metabolized differently in the body, they go straight to the liver where they are converted into energy efficiently and are less likely to be stored as fat.
We know that all calories are NOT created equal as different foods have different effects on our hormones and our metabolism.
- Coconut oil may increase the metabolism.
Medium chain fatty acids (MCT), have been shown in to increase the metabolism by up to 5% over the day which can mean that you may burn up to an extra 120 calories per day. They have also shown to increase energy expenditure in comparison to other fats such as long-chain fatty acids (LCT) which are animal fats, butter, seafood and fish oils. This means that it supports a higher calorie burn in individuals.
- Coconut oil may decrease the appetite (and may help to keep you full for longer).
Coconut oil is very satisfying and reduces the desire to consume excess calories. Fats in the diet support satiety hormones particularly MCT. In a review it was concluded that MCT increases fat oxidation and energy expenditure as well as reducing food intake and beneficially altered body composition. Studies show that, compared to the same amount of calories from other fats, MCT increased feelings of fullness, therefore reducing the overall intake of calories over the day. Other studies showed a greater satiating effect from medium-chain triglycerides (MCT).
- Coconut oil may reduce body weight.
In animals consuming MCT, overall body weights were lower, fat depots smaller and fat cell size were smaller with MCT consumption.
- Coconut oil may reduce belly fat (the worst type).
Studies also that show consuming coconut oil as a dietary supplement helps to reduce the waist circumference combined with reduced belly fat deposits. Any small reduction in waist circumference will reduce the risk of chronic disease that is associated with belly fat such as diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
- Coconut oil may act as a natural anti-microbial.
The fatty acids in coconut oil contain antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral properties. Some studies show it may inhibit candida and staph infections.
- Coconut oil may help cognitive function in mild Alzheimer’s patients.
Glucose is the brain’s principal energy source, in Alzheimer’s disease there appears to be a decrease in the brain’s ability to use glucose. New evidence suggests that ketone bodies derived from MCT are an effective alternative energy source for the brain and improves memory recall within 2 hours. Due to more studies concluding these results, they are further studying the potential therapeutic effects.
- Coconut oil is also a great natural moisturizer for the hair, skin and nails.
Not only is it good for us on the inside but it is wonderful on the outside. Here is a great coconut moisturizing hair mask! It’s also a great baby moisturizer.
- Coconut oil is great for baking, roasting and sautéing.
This is due to its heat stability while unsaturated fats are less heat stable and can easily oxidize. It is also useful for desserts and cooked goods in high temperatures as an alternate to butter and vegetable oils. It is also great to use in raw dessert for its solid nature.
Remember: The effects shown were small but with lots of positive healthy choices combined with including a small amount of coconut oil in your diet, it may support weight control and health improvements. It’s also important to keep in mind that coconut oil is high calorie so it doesn’t mean the more the better, enjoying this fat in small quantities is advised (1-3 tsp per day).
It’s VERY important to remember that all healthy fats are important for good health which includes both MCT and LCT. For optimal health it’s paramount to include a balance among these various essential fats and oils, and you can achieve this balance by eating a diet that incorporates a wide variety of whole foods.
If you don’t have coconut oil in your pantry, you can stock up on some at Amazon.com.
Coconut Oil Recipes
So many of our recipes use coconut oil! Give it a try in three of our favorites: