Diet & Nutrition

In my last blog I talked about the idea of letting your resolution “emerge” as you settle into the New Year.  But let’s face it, it’s the New Year and most people take this opportunity to make decisions about life changes.  As I have been doing radio interviews for my book, this theme continually arises.

The underlying idea in my book is that as we begin to take small steps in changing our lifestyle, we can gain big strides toward achieving a healthy, balanced life.

In my next few blogs, I will talk about some of the small changes you can begin to make in your food selection and approach to moving more.  

Today, I want to talk about FAT - specifically the fat from coconut oil. 

For decades fat, specifically saturated fat, was demonized as the primary cause of obesity and all of the illnesses associated with obesity such as, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  Now we are learning that it is not the fat per se, that is the demon.  In fact saturated fat seems to play a significant role in protecting our health while the unsaturated fat that we find in vegetable oils for example, is detrimental to our health.

You have probably heard that food we shunned for so long, such as eggs and butter, are now off the “bad” list and back on the “good” list.  One of the other fats that was poo-pooed for decades was coconut oil.  Now we see it touted as the newest fad in health food.

What’s the scoop on coconut oil?

There is a growing body of research on coconut oil to help us identify what the benefits are and understand how we can best use coconut oil to boost overall health.

I am going to break this information down into small bites of information.

  1. The type of fat in coconut oil is primarily “medium chain” fatty acid or medium chain triglyceride (MCT).  The definition of “medium chain” was created somewhat arbitrarily.  Generally a fat molecule that has a “tail” with only 6-12 carbons is considered medium chain.
  2. Each of the chains of fatty acids (6 chain, 8 chain, 10 chain, 12 chain) have different names and can have specific benefits (or detriments) based on the nature of the carbon chain.
  3. Each of these fatty acid chains can be used for energy independent of other types of food such as carbohydrates.
  4. The size of the carbon chain determines how quickly your body can use the fat for energy.
  5. The way the body uses the fatty acid for energy is to convert it to ketones.  [NOTE:  This is NOT to be confused with “ketoacidosis” which is a life-threatening condition that typically occurs in diabetes when the body is not producing insulin.]
  6. The two “hot-topic” fatty acids that are found in coconut oil are the 8 carbon (caprylic acid) and the 12 carbon (lauric acid).

Let’s talk about these two superstars for a moment.

Caprylic Acid

You may have heard about coconut oil being suggested as a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease.  There had been some interesting anecdotal cases where eating coconut oil seemed to spark an improvement in cognitive functioning of Alzheimer’s patients.  This has led to a lot of research to figure out why.

The theory is that the condition in Alzheimer’s is somewhat like diabetes for the brain.   In fact, some people refer to Alzheimer’s as “type 3 diabetes”.  The idea is that the brain is unable to utilize carbohydrate (sugar) for energy and essentially starves, causing brain cells to die.

However, the brain CAN use ketones for energy.  That’s where the heroic medium chain fatty acids come in, especially caprylic acid from coconut oil. 

Wait there’s more…

The brain is not the only organ that can use ketones for energy.  Your other body systems can use them as well.  Studies have shown that people who eat medium chain fatty acids prior to an intense workout can work out harder and longer, therefore getting a better training result and burning more calories.

And more!

Another benefit to this amazing little powerhouse is hunger suppression.  The research suggests that when the body produces ketones, the ketones turn off our hunger hormone, making us feel full longer.  Imagine that!  Eating a fat helps you to feel full longer, theoretically helping you to lose weight by eating less.

Now let’s take a look at Lauric Acid

Lauric acid is the longest of the MCTs found in coconut oil.  Because of its length, it doesn’t break down into ketones as easily and creates a little more stress on the liver to metabolize it. 

So what makes it a Super Star?

What lauric acid is famous for is its amazing ability to kill viruses, bacteria, and fungi, without killing the good bacteria in your gut.  This means that you can utilize this long MCT to help prevent illness and also to shorten the duration of various bugs that we catch throughout the year.  It is also great for protecting your gut when you travel.

It is also one of the reasons coconut oil is good for your skin.  It’s a wonderful ingredient used in soaps and deodorants and can be used to treat acne!

Why am I talking about these two MCTs separately from simply coconut oil?

You may have seen the huge variety of coconut oil and coconut oil products (MCT oil) on the market.  Being aware of what these things do and why they are “good for you” will help you make better choices when you purchase.  Click for some easy guidelines:

  1. Look for cold pressed or expeller pressed coconut oil.
  2. Make sure it is unrefined.  Unrefined is typically referred to as “virgin.”  While there is technically no difference in the US between virgin and extra-virgin coconut oil, my experience is that extra-virgin seems to have a fresher smell and seems to hold the freshness longer.  There is definitely a difference in price – so you be the judge.
  3. Go organic whenever possible.
  4. Glass versus plastic?  Coconut oil in plastic containers is typically less expensive.  It is produced in mass quantities and can be purchased in large tubs.  However, over time the lauric acid in the coconut oil can cause the plastic to erode and can leach into your precious healthy oil.
  5. If you are purchasing a product that is marketed as MCT oil, look for purity of ingredients and ideally a product that is primarily caprylic acid and doesn’t contain palm oil.
  6. If you are interested pure lauric acid for health benefits, you can find various products on the market in supplement form from capsules to pellets.  Do your homework to make sure you are getting the most biologically available product.

Ok back to the theme of small steps big strides…

As we begin to learn more about healthy food options, we can make informed decisions about what we feed ourselves and our families.  Adding some version of coconut oil to your diet can help boost your metabolism, improve brain function and potentially help maintain a healthy weight.  It is a small change that can have big health benefits!

I know this seems like a lot of information on one small topic, but this is really a snapshot of information.  Coconut oil is of great interest to the scientific community and there is much more about coconut oil in the literature. 

If you are looking for the science on coconut oil, you might find the Bulletproof blog to be a helpful resource.  Bulletproof is in the business of selling MCT oil so be aware of that.  However, for a wonderful set of scientific resources, and more detailed information than what I have provided here, go to bulletproof.

At the bottom of the page there is a link to 28 articles that support the benefits of coconut oil and its individual MCTs.

Do you have a healthy experience with coconut oil that you would like to share? Send me an email.  I would love to hear your story!

Until the next time…

Be well my friend.

P.S.  I have two book signings coming up in Albuquerque!  The times and dates have changed, so mark your calendar.  Saturday, January 21, I will be at the Natural Grocers on Wyoming from 11:00 -12:00.  Due to Superbowl, I moved my signing at Page 1 to Sunday, February 12, at 3:00.  I hope to see you there!

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