What’s the Deal with Coconut Oil?

Everyone’s New Best Friend…

coconut oil

Several of my patients ask me about coconut oil because, somewhere along the line, they’ve heard it was “good for them.” Based on this very general accolade, they leave their house in search for this “good-for-you-oil.” But, at $20 per jar, what’s really so special about coconut oil?

The Science behind “It’s good for you”…

Coconut oil has two really great properties that set it apart from it’s other oil friends.

  1. It’s a powerful destroyer of all kinds of microbes, from viruses to bacteria to protozoa, many of which can be harmful. The metabolic byproducts of this oil can destroy lipid-coated viruses such as HIV and herpes, influenza, measles, gram-negative bacteria, and protozoa.
  2. Coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) that are easily digested and readily cross cell membranes. MCFA’s are immediately converted by your liver into energy rather than being stored as fat. Around 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is rarely found in nature. In fact, coconut oil contains the most lauric acid of any substance on Earth.

This is undoubtedly part of what makes it so medicinally useful—both when taken internally and applied externally. But what does it mean to be a medium chain fatty acid? That’s a big word.

Understanding Medium Chain Fatty Acids…

The first thing you need to know is the basic chemical structure of a fat.

Triglyceride

Most triglycerides have a “glycerol” and then three separate chains of “free fatty acids.” Each one of these zig-zags represents a carbon molecule with 2-3 hydrogen molecules. Our body breaks one carbon/hydrogen grouping off the chain with an enzyme (an organism that can break bonds). Cutting off the end of the chain allows us to digest the fat in small segments rather than all at once. It’s a really long chain and we only take one section off at a time… this is why fat takes so long to be metabolized.

But not every molecule of fat is the same length. Triglycerides (fat molecules) can have short chains, medium chains, or long chains. This chart might help you to understand…

Length of Fatty Acid Chain

Pretty cool stuff. The really interesting part is that short chain fatty acids actually act more like a fast acting energy than a slow burning fat.

SIDE NOTE: Remember, fat doesn’t make you “fat”

Many people try to glorify “low-fat diets.” Not me.

Going “low fat” could have an unwanted effect on your appetite because fat is a major contributor to satiety (fullness). The long fatty acid chain we talked about earlier breaks down slowly and keeps you feeling full in between your meals.

If you eliminate fat in your diet, you’re likely to start an unhealthy habit of chronic snacking on carbohydrates (fast burning energy) that seems to leave you constantly searching for more. (<< Definitely not ideal for diabetics..)

WARNING: Not all fats are good guys.

An example of unhealthy oils would be trans fats (a known murderer) and the GMO polyunsaturated oils. Some experts think the huge increase in polyunsaturated oils in the American diet may be responsible for our accrual of thyroid problems.

Ray Peat Ph.D., a physiologist who has worked with progesterone and related hormones since 1968, says that the sudden surge of polyunsaturated oils (soybean oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, margarine) into the food chain post World War II has even caused change in hormones! He writes:

“Their [polyunsaturated oils] best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland. Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone. When the thyroid hormone is deficient, the body is generally exposed to increased levels of estrogen. The thyroid hormone is essential for making the ‘protective hormones’ progesterone and pregnenolone, so these hormones are lowered when anything interferes with the function of the thyroid. The thyroid hormone is required for using and eliminating cholesterol, so cholesterol is likely to be raised by anything that blocks the thyroid function.”

Yikes! Thyroid problems seem to be more and more common in our society. This might be contributing.

But I digress. Back to Coconut Oil…

Health Benefits of Coconut Oil (MCFA and anti-viral effect):

  • Promoting heart health
  • Promoting healthy brain function
  • Providing energy for your body and supporting a strong metabolism that can aid in weight loss
  • Supporting proper thyroid function
  • Boosting your immune system
  • Maintaining healthy, youthful looking skin

Here’s how you can put it to good use…Coconut oil is used for two general purposes: in food and in beauty products. I will briefly cover both.

Coconut Oil in Cooking/Baking

Coconut Oil JarCoconut oil is a great substitute for butter or shortening in cooking and baking. It can withstand higher temperatures without being damaged like many other oils. Also, coconut oil doesn’t go rancid like many other oils might, so it will keep longer in your pantry than vegetable or canola oil.

Coconut oil should be solid at room temperature. My coconut oil has a habit of being liquid all through the summer because my house is a little warmer during that time. Despite this fact, don’t go to the other extreme and store your coconut oil in the fridge or freezer. This makes it difficult to get out. Cold coconut oil is like chiseling stone.

Coconut Oil Beauty Products

The anti-microbial, moisturizing, and long lasting properties of coconut oil make it ideal for use in different household or beauty products. If you’re interested in learning more about home remedies with coconut oil, check out this blog post. I’m pretty sure they covered it all.

In Summary:

  • Coconut oil IS good for you… as long as you can afford it ($$$).
  • Fat IS good for you – as long as you use the right kind.
  • It would be a good idea to use coconut oil in your baking IN PLACE OF shortening and vegetable oils. Butter is probably okay (controversial in research right now – controversy not covered in this blog post).
  • Coconut oil can not only help your insides, but it also helps your outsides. Try a coconut oil beauty product.

I’ll try to post some recipes using coconut oil in the near future. :) But, if you’re feeling impatient… try this one.

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