Coconut oil has grown in popularity over the years and it’s no longer a passing trend. From weight loss to boosting brain function, the health benefits of coconut oil are pretty impressive!
The rise in demand of this superfood has also sparked an equal amount of controversy, mainly to do with the fact that coconut oil contains a large amount of saturated fat (and a diet rich in saturated fat = heart disease, right?)
It was once believed that because saturated fat and cholesterol-containing foods naturally lead to a rise in our blood cholesterol, that they must ultimately contribute to heart disease.
What we now know is that it’s not cholesterol that’s the issue, it’s when cholesterol becomes oxidized that we run into problems with our heart health.
While research shows that coconut oil does contain a higher amount of saturated fat, it’s not enough to increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. In fact, one study found that coconut oil actually improved HDL cholesterol (our ‘good’’ cholesterol).
In healthy, lean participants with no history of heart attack or stroke, it was found that HDL cholesterol improved while consuming 63% of their calories from coconut fat.
Other studies have found that lipid profiles actually improve while following high fat diets that contain coconut oil - and although coconut oil contains up to 90% of saturated fat, the countries with the highest intakes of coconut oil actually have the lowest rates of heart disease!
For decades we’ve been avoiding saturated fats and cholesterol-containing foods (like eggs, coconut oil, butter, grass-fed meat, etc.), when the problem is really to do with the free radicals that are formed when we consume a processed diet.
Along with reducing inflammation and preventing the production of free radicals, coconut oil has been shown to lower triglycerides and smaller LDL cholesterol particles (it’s the small particles of LDL cholesterol accompanied by high triglycerides that increase our risk of heart disease).
The good news is that a lot of these conflicting claims have been cleared up thanks to the emergence of the keto diet, which helped us realize that fats within the diet are actually very necessary!
The keto diet is a low carb, high fat diet where the body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which you burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. In this metabolic state, the body is incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy, which is why many people have found success following this diet as an effective tool to lose weight.
By following a diet rich in healthy fats, the keto diet is said to stabilize blood sugar, boost energy and improve overall health.
Along with the success of high fat diets, review after review continues to show that there seems to be no link between the consumption of saturated fats and heart disease, and that it’s more about the type of fat we’re eating and where it comes from.
Although many studies now show us that a higher intake of saturated fat isn’t associated with an increased risk of heart disease, there’s a huge difference between the quality of saturated fats found in coconut oil, versus the fats found in fast food.
We now know that total cholesterol is not an accurate measure for predicting heart disease or stroke, and as we now know, it’s the inflammation that plays the biggest role in the progression of heart disease.
Coconut oil is incredibly anti-inflammatory, and research shows that following a diet high in saturated fats actually lowers inflammation and oxidative stress, which is a key reason why these diets can be beneficial for our cholesterol profile.
And if you can’t shake the fear that fat will make you fat, one study revealed that those who ate more fat in comparison to an equal amount of carbohydrates resulted in burning over 100 more calories per day from their regular activity alone!
Everything is healthy when eaten in moderation, so don’t be afraid of saturated fat when it’s consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Especially when it’s derived from healthy sources, like coconuts!
Coconut oil contains MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides), which are amino acids that act as an efficient source of fuel for our cells.
In comparison to long-chain amino acids, MCT’s are shorter in length, meaning that they’re broken down more rapidly and absorbed by the body.
Our cells are able to burn MCT’s as a readily available source of energy, storing little as fat as a result. This is why coconut oil is said to boost our metabolism, and help us lose fat!
Not only do they assist the body in switching to a fat burning state, MCT’s also turn off our hunger hormones, keeping us full and satisfied after meals.
MCT’s have also been shown to reverse insulin resistance, support cognitive function and actually improve our cholesterol levels by lowering our total cholesterol.
Coconut oil provides us with the best source of MCT’s to boost metabolism, improve energy and performance, burn fat, lower triglycerides and reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Coconut oil differs from other cooking oils, because it contains those impressive MTC’s like lauric acid, which provide us with the added fat burning and heart protective benefits.
Lauric acid is an amino acid that makes up half of the fatty acids in virgin coconut oil, and it’s thought to be responsible for many of the heart protective benefits of the oil itself.
Along with its potent anti-microbial effects, lauric acid also significantly improves our cholesterol profile. By boosting HDL cholesterol and even reducing blood pressure and oxidative stress, lauric acid is an impressive nutrient for cardiovascular health.
Another important fatty acid found in coconut oil is caprylic acid, a medium chain fatty acid that’s been linked to many health benefits. Caprylic acid works as an effective remedy for candida and other fungal conditions, and works as an effective tool to support digestive health.
Research suggests that long chain amino acids like caprylic acid may protect against digestive inflammation, providing potent anti-inflammatory and healing benefits to the gut. By protecting the gut lining, ridding the body of candida and balancing our gut bacteria, coconut oil may be a useful aid in the prevention of stomach ulcers and other digestive concerns.
The saturated fat component is also what makes coconut oil so resistant to oxidation in high heat. When cooking at high temperatures, some cooking oils naturally reach their smoke point and will start to break down and oxidize.
With oxidation comes the release of free radicals, which contribute to inflammation and have been linked to the onset of disease (which we now know is what really contributes to heart disease!).
This is what makes coconut oil so superior for cooking at high heat in comparison to other vegetable oils (the ones you see on supermarket shelves in clear plastic packaging, that are likely already rancid before you even open the bottle!).
Aside from cooking, there are endless ways to use coconut oil. As an alternative to butter in your baked or raw treats (check out our recipe for a delish raw slice here!), in your bulletproof coffee - you can even apply it topically in place of your moisturizer.
But before you start thinking about how you can incorporate this hero ingredient into your diet, there are some key things you need to consider.
If a bottle of coconut oil is always liquid, it can mean that the company has likely removed the fats that make it solid or they’ve blended it with other oils.
As opposed to fractionated forms, solid coconut oil is typically purer and is less likely to experience heat damage or run the risk of going rancid.
Solid coconut oil has a shelf life of more than two years, and it doesn’t need to be kept refrigerated. It’s okay if your coconut oil fluctuates between solid and liquid form, as long as it’s originally intended to be solid.
Often referred to as virgin or cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil has been pressed and undergoes no further heat or extraction process. It has a strong flavor and scent, and is often used in baking or products for the specific taste.
Like unrefined coconut oil, the refined oil is pressed and continues to be processed in order to make a suitable oil for cooking. Refined coconut oil provides all the benefits of unrefined oil, but without the distinct coconut flavor and scent.
Because of the additional processing, refined coconut oil has an even higher smoke point, making it a better option for high temperature cooking.
Both refined and unrefined have an almost identical nutrient profile, so choosing between the two is a matter of preference and what you’re using the oil for.
Organic foods and oils are free of pesticides and preservatives, they’re non-GMO and as a result they contain more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals - which is why our coconut oil is organic, non-GMO and unrefined!
Naturopath & Medical Herbalist