I've been reading quite a bit about coconut these days: books, magazines, diet books, newspapers, supplements...It goes on. Everything and everyone is rooting for coconut. And they should be!
Many of my clients ask me about coconut oil in particular. Especially its high saturated fat content. Many wonder how something like coconut could be so nutritious for us when 1 tablespoon of its oil contains 12 grams of saturated fat! The answer is somewhat simple: the saturated fat in coconut oil, called lauric acid, functions to lower LDL cholesterol, raise HDL cholesterol, and fight bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. It is a type of oil that is rarely found in nature and is also made up of what we call medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). The significance of this is found in the ability of MCTs to be digested easily in the gut and used readily for energy by the body, promoting a higher level of fat burning. In contrast, LCTs (long chain triglycerides) are large molecules that are difficult for the body to digest, which makes them prime candidates for fat storage. These LCTs are found in many vegetable and seed oils. Many athletes and other active individuals use coconut oil as a healthy source of energy for intense workouts and/or endurance events.
Lauric acid is not coconut's only good quality, however! Below are some additional benefits of regular coconut oil consumption:
- Increased heart health: As discussed above, coconut oil's lauric acid increases HDL (and in turn lowers LDL) and increases cholesterol's conversion to pregnenolone. Pregnenolone is a precursor to many hormones our bodies need for healthy organ function.
- Improved thyroid function: This leads to a higher metabolism and healthier cholesterol levels. A poorly functioning thyroid can lead to high cholesterol. This also can lead to a leaner body and increased energy levels.
- Improved blood sugar levels: Coconut oil improves the body's sensitivity to insulin, therefore, helping to lower blood sugar levels. This can be particularly beneficial for those with pre-diabetes.
- Increased resistance to bacterial and viral infections: Less fungus, yeast, and candida--naturally!
- Leaner body: Coconut oil's MCTs are the main characters in this story. The ease at which they are broken down in the gut lends them to be used as efficient sources of energy. The result? Increased use of fats by the body as energy, promoting decreased belly fat and a leaner body.
- Powerful antioxidant activity: Coconut oil has an incredible ability to stop the damage to other healthy fats and tissues in the body by halting the process of oxidation (anti-oxidant activity).
- Healthy skin and hair: Coconut oil is rich in antioxidants, as described above, including vitamin E. These characteristics bolster hair and skin when applied topically.
- Heat stability: This characteristic is useful for baking, cooking, frying, etc. Many healthy oils can be transformed into trans fats when exposed to high temperatures in baking, cooking, and frying. Coconut is very tolerant of these temperatures and maintains its nutritive properties. And, it has a very mild flavor, making it useful in a wide variety of recipes.
Wondering how to begin incorporating coconut oil into your diet routine? An easy way to introduce coconut oil is to add 1-2 tablespoons to a smoothie, use it as a substitute for olive or vegetable oils when grilling or baking chicken and other meats, or use it as a substitute for vegetable oils when baking cookies, cakes, etc. Or you could simply take a tablespoon straight from the spoon, as many people do to maintain heart, thyroid, and immune health. However you do it, consuming coconut oil on a regular basis can be a powerful tool for improving overall health and longevity.