One of my favourite foods is coconut. I love to eat the meat, drink the water (even on long runs) and eat the oil. But looking through my Facebook page the other day, I found a conversation around a coconut product which showed me there is still some confusion about this awesome fuel source. Some people still believe that all fats can be stored as fat, even coconut fat. So let’s take a look at the humble coconut and see what its benefits are.
Coconuts are actually high in a fat known as a medium chain triglyceride (6-10 carbons long). Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s) are a fat that does not get stored as fat, instead, they get converted straight into energy. The way this happens is the MCT’s go straight to your liver where ketones are produced which is a great alternative fuel source for your body, especially your brain. Some people will tell you that carbs are the only fuel for the brain. This is not true at all, ketones are used very efficiently in the brain along with your body’s other organs.
In fact there is a US Doctor whose husband was getting dementia and the disease had progressed quite badly. After a period of being fed coconut oil, the keytones had helped repair the brain and his symptoms improved. As with many findings in the medical industry like this, more research is to be done – which possibly means it has been shelved. If you are interested in watching an interview with this Doctor, click this link.
If we look at where most of our coconuts come from, it’s the Pacific Islands. In some of these islands, before Western influence, food was very limited. The standard diet was fish/seafood, taro (a low glycemic, potato like root vegetable) and coconut. A diet consisting of just these three food sources, would have most nutritionist’s heads spinning. But take a look at who these people were. Their stature is typically very large and very muscular. They had great endurance as they had the ability to paddle their small canoes many kilometers to inhabit some of these distant islands. The only food that they could carry on these long trips out to the ocean, that wouldn’t spoil, was coconuts and any fish they could catch along the way. The combination of fats and water that coconuts contain was all they needed to survive at times. A pretty awesome food if you ask me.
It also should be noted that they never had many of the degenerative diseases that us Westerners get, like heart disease, cancer, stroke or alzheimer’s. Looking at some of the research into coconut oil, some sources will tell you that coconut oil, being a saturated fat, is strongly linked to heart disease. Although to look further into it, the research was done about 70 years ago on hydrogenated coconut oil. Hydrogenation is a process that artificially solidifies an oil, (like margarine), and when this is done, the oil becomes more like plastic than a food and does have strong links to inflammatory conditions like heart disease. So yes, hydrogenated coconut oil will increase your risk of heart disease, natural extra virgin coconut oil will not.
I started eating pure organic coconut oil about 10 years ago. It is extracted from freshly opened coconuts, by expeller, so no heat or chemicals are used. Some fats cause gastrointestinal stress when eaten in large amounts (generally polyunsaturated oils), but the fats in coconut are digested very easily so it’s no issue.
Coconut oil is one of the best fats to cook with. It is far more heat stable than any other oil out there. Most oils, including olive oil, oxidize at high cooking temperatures, not coconut oil. When frying foods, it is my first choice. Although eating raw is best. It’s a great addition to any smoothie or eaten straight from the spoon.
It also has great antibacterial and antiviral properties. Mary Enig, PhD, one of the world’s leading researchers into fats and oils says this about this type of oil
“Approximately 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid.”
If you haven’t embraced coconut oil as a food yet, get onto it. I love it and advise everyone I talk to, to also include it in their diet. You can only benefit from it as I can’t find a single negative about it.