Once upon a time, in a world far, far away — well… Atlanta, Georgia (far enough), I used to be a no-fat freak. Yes, you heard me. I wouldn’t go near the stuff. I, like many of you, was under the impression that dietary fat makes your body fatter. So, if fat makes you fat, eating no fat must help keep you thin and healthy. Right? Wrong! The problem was that most of our “trusted advisors” were on board with this theory — the USDA, our doctors, and every health-related book and magazine preached this message. Many still do.
You see, fat does not make us fat. Wait, let me specify — certain fats, especially saturated medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), like coconut oil, do not make us fat. In fact, these MCFA can do quite the opposite. Back in the 1990s our trusted researchers failed to realize that not all fats are created equal. Bad fats, like hydrogenated oils, trans-fats, and PUFAs, will make you fat — not only by their high caloric values but by their metabolically lowering effect. Remember, there is more to gaining body fat than just calories. The actual response of your metabolism (revving it up or slowing it down) is far more important.
Back in 1990s, I could have been the poster child for how to slow down your metabolism. I ate tons of low fat, low calorie processed foods filled with vegetable oils, fillers, additives, hormones, and other (pardon my language) crap. I performed hours of steady cardio every day. I got very little sleep and I drank alcohol like a fish. No wonder, even though I was in my 20’s, I could never get lean. I was killing my metabolism! Damn, if I had only known then what I know now, I could have saved myself from eating tons of unhealthy, nasty tasting crap — all of which I am sure was doing me far more harm than good.
Anyway, things have changed. I have changed. And now we know that fat does not make you fat. In fact, some fat can help you lose fat… which brings me to the topic of conversation today — metabolism-stimulating coconut oil!
First, what is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of matured coconuts and is used for food, medicine, and even hair and skin care. Coconut oil is one of the few saturated fats that come from a plant source. It is unusually rich in short and medium chain fatty acids, and it’s especially high in the medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), Lauric Acid. Since coconut oil is saturated, it is very stable at high temperatures. This makes it ideal for cooking and baking. More importantly, because of its strong bonds it will NOT oxidize inside your body. Fats that oxidize in the body lead to easy attacks by free radicals, which can cause a lower metabolic rate, disease, faster aging, and cancers. Sounds like a winning combo for me!
What are the benefits of taking coconut oil?
There are many, many benefits. However, for the sake of not going overboard, I’ll give you what I believe to be the most important reasons to incorporate it into your diet.
- Increases the metabolism.
Coconut oil helps stimulate thyroid function. Your thyroid gland controls your metabolism by producing T3 and T4 in your body. These hormones are released into your system where they control the conversion of oxygen and calories into energy (metabolism). In addition, the medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil inhibit the liver’s formation of fat, allowing the MCFA energy to be used, rather than stored as fat like the longer chain fatty acids that are in most vegetable oils (PUFAs). We must understand the physiology of our fats. The actual length of a fatty acid will determine how your body metabolizes it. To be broken down, MCFAs do not require bile, and they do not require the carnitine transport system to enter into the cells’ mitochondria. Huh? Basically, these fats can go from your gut to the liver to be metabolized as quick energy, which increases heat production and metabolism.
*Remember the farmers of 1940? They fed their livestock coconut oil to try and fatten them up, but they found that it only made the animals lean, active, and hungry. For famers who want to fatten animals quickly, coconut oil was producing the opposite effect. So this was a bad thing to incorporate into livestock feed. But for you and I who want to stay lean and healthy, coconut oil is a home run!
Once again, since coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is far more stable in the body. Stable fats do not get oxidized or damaged easily. The more oxidation you have in your body, the more aging will occur. In the 1960’s Hartroff and Porta showed that “age pigment” is produced in proportion to the amount of oxidants to antioxidants in the diet. They demonstrated that the more PUFAs that are in the diet, the more general aging, more age spots, and more wrinkling. Less PUFAs and more saturated fat had an anti-aging effect. Personally, I have experienced very similar results. I have been using coconut oil daily for over a year and have been told by many friends and clients how my skin and hair look and feel, smoother, softer, and more youthful. Looking younger from a year ago? I’ll take it!
- Decreases cholesterol.
For over 80 years it has been known that with a suppressed thyroid, serum cholesterol levels will rise. This happens because without production of the T3 and T4 hormones, cholesterol cannot convert into steroid hormones (including progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, pregnenalone, and cortisol). Remember cholesterol is a major building block for most of your hormones. Without your active form of thyroid (T3), cholesterol cannot convert, and so it remains in your system, elevating your serum cholesterol. This is one reason that as we get older our cholesterol naturally rises — slowing of the metabolism. Since coconut oil supports the function of the thyroid, this will help convert cholesterol to the proper hormones — thus decreasing serum cholesterol levels.
Coconut oil is composed of almost 40% Lauric Acid (a medium chain fatty acid). The body converts Lauric Acid into monolaurin, which is the substance that protects infants from viral, bacterial, or protozoal infections. In 1978, Jon Kabara reported that certain MCFAs, such as Lauric Acid have adverse effects on pathogenic microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast, and fungi. These fatty acids and their derivatives actually disrupt the lipid membranes of the organisms, and thus inactivate them — and this produces an antiseptic-like response. Hence, coconut oil kills undesirable microbes.
- Helps with digestion.
Like I stated above, coconut oil helps decrease bad bacteria in the body. Most of your bacteria are found in the intestines and colon, which is where most of our food is broken down and absorbed. Once you have a healthier digestive tract, digestion and absorption of nutrients becomes more effective. Personally, I believe one of the biggest problems in people’s health in today’s world is their lack of intestinal health. If your gut and intestinal area are filled with unhealthy bacteria and inflammation, even the best of diets and supplements will not suffice for optimal health — a good diet is half the battle, the other half is actually absorbing it.
Because of its high level of Lauric Acid and a smaller amount of Caprylic Acid, coconut oil has been used to kill athlete’s foot fungus, yeast infections, and intestinal parasites. In addition, coconut oil has been shown helpful in the diet for treating people with heart disease, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis, gallbladder disease, diabetes, liver disease, and cancer.
- Increases energy and overall well being.
If there is one thing that all my clients report within a week of adding coconut oil, it is this — increased energy and feeling better. Coconut oil’s MCFAs are burned as fuel more efficiently, increasing the health of your liver and thyroid, increasing the metabolic rate, increasing energy production, and increasing your energy all day long.
Who knew? All this from just one fat! It would seem that coconut oil is like the baking soda of fat — majorly multi-purpose.
Well, now you know why I love coconut oil so much and recommend it to my clients. I suppose the next question would be…
What kind of coconut oil should you get?
Refined, unrefined, cold pressed, organic, virgin, extra virgin, raw, expeller pressed?
Without going into too much detail, here are some basic things you should know about choosing your coconut oil.
- Unrefined or raw coconut oil has a strong coconut taste and will still contain the fibers of the coconut. This coconut oil has had the least amount of processing done to it.
- Organic means the coconuts are from areas that do not use chemicals.
- Virgin or extra virgin oil has to do with how many times the coconut meal was pressed OR the amount of pressure (heat) that was used to the get oil out. Less pressure and heat is less damaging.
- Expeller or cold pressed means no chemicals were used to remove the oil, but it was done physically with a machine. Once again, less heat was applied to remove the oils.
- Refined coconut oil will be tasteless and fiber-free. This oil may work better for some, especially if the person already has digestive issues and has a hard time breaking down the insoluble coconut fibers.
- Some people find that they may get nausea or diarrhea with extra virgin unrefined coconut oil, but they have no such symptoms with the refined coconut oil.
- Personally, I use both. Whether it is refined or unrefined I always purchase organic and cold or expeller pressed.
Finally, how much should you consume?
If you are a coconut oil beginner, start with 1 to 2 teaspoons a day. As you know, with anything, too much too soon can cause digestive disturbance and body dysfunction. Anytime you make changes to your diet, start slow. This gives your body time to acclimate to the new dietary adjustments. As you feel the beneficial effects of coconut oil, add a little more on a weekly basis until you are consuming anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons a day.
You can use coconut oil to sauté, bake, and fry foods. You can make salad dressings and dips or you can just take a spoonful here and there for its beneficial effects. There is no right or wrong way.
As you can see, there are many beneficial effects of using coconut oil. Is it right for you? Well, that is up to you to decide. As I have said repetitively each week, the recommendations I give in these blogs are not person-specific. We are all different, while some things work great for some, the same thing may not work for someone else. Your health is your own personal journey. As a constant reminder, my only mission in these blogs is to educate you on a different level and present information that allows you to think so that you can decide what is right for you.
If you are not left pondering, then you are not learning.
Your optimal health coach,
“Disclaimer: I am an exercise physiologist, personal trainer, nutritional and lifestyle coach, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat or claim to prevent, mitigate or cure any human disease or physical problem. I do not provide diagnosis, care treatment or rehabilitation of individuals, nor apply medical, mental health or human development principles. I do not prescribe prescription drugs nor do I tell you to discontinue them. I provide physical and dietary suggestions to improve health and wellness and to nourish and support normal function and structure of the body. If you suspect any disease please consult your physician.”
Coconut Oil Research Center www.coconutresearchcenter.org
Coconut oil Wikipedia
Dr Lita Lee, a chemist and nutritionalist of almost 40 years www.drlitalee.com
“Coconut oil –Why is it good for you”
Dr Ray Peat, a biologist, physiologist and nutritional wizard www.raypeat.com
“Coconut Oil”, “Unsaturated vegetable Oils –Toxic”