It’s perhaps not surprising that there is some controversy about whether you should use coconut oil for weight loss. Let’s think about this: How can eating a fat lead to losing fat? That sounds wrong. In fact, some people would have you believe that it is wrong to suggest that coconut oil is good for you at all!
So, before we can talk about how coconut oil is indeed a solution for helping to reduce unwanted flab, we need to change the way we think about fats.
I hope that this article will give you enough information to understand why coconut oil is in fact good for you and some of the ways that it benefits your health.
Coconut Oil - Good Fat or Bad Fat?
While there are many in medical circles who dispute the findings, the health benefits of coconut oil are well documented:
- Increased energy levels and reduced fatigue
- Improved metabolism, which helps with weight loss
- Increased levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) and lower LDL (the bad cholesterol), which is good for heart health
- Strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties
- Beneficial for brain function, bone health, liver and kidney function, thyroid function, the immune system, the digestive system, skin and hair, and many more.
- Helps prevent diabetes and reduces inflammation
If these things are true, why is it that some people – including the American Heart Association - will tell you that coconut oil is bad for you?
Outdated Beliefs About Saturated Fats
The answer is that coconut oil contains saturated fat – and for the past 50 years saturated fat has been vilified.
The traditional wisdom, defined in the so-called USDA Dietary Guidelines, has been that fat in the diet leads to fat on the hips! It's easy to see that the entire food industry is now setup to produce "low-fat" versions of everything. Removing fats has led to increased intake of carbohydrates, much of it sugar. People have been told that to lose weight they should eat less (cut calories) and exercise more (burn calories). We’ve also been told that eating saturated fats leads to raised LDL cholesterol which clogs arteries and leads to heart disease. We’ve been told to replace saturated fats with mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Despite this health advice, and over the same period, the rates of obesity have risen dramatically, from about 16% in 1980 to 45,6% now (37.9% are obese, and 7.7% are extremely obese). At the same time, the incidence of diabetes has quadrupled, and heart disease and cancer associated with obesity remain unacceptably high.
So how can we change this?
Saturated Vs Unsaturated Fats
There are two main types of fats:
Saturated fats, mainly come from animal sources and tropical oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter.
Sources of Saturated Fats
Unsaturated fats, mainly come from plants and fatty fish. These can be divided into:
- Mono-unsaturated fats (for example from olive oil and avocados)
- Poly-unsaturated fats (for example from walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax, fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna). These fats can be further divided into Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. They are known as "essential fatty acids" because they are essential to health but are not produced by the body and must come from our diet.
Sources of unsaturated fats
Saturated fats have been regarded as the "bad fats". However, it is becoming increasingly clear that:
- Saturated fats have important health benefits, including acting as building blocks for cell membranes, helping with the absorption of minerals and vitamins, serving as a fuel for mitochondria (thereby speeding up your metabolism), leading to a feeling of "fullness" for longer periods, thereby cutting cravings and repeated snacking.
- Unsaturated fats can also be bad for you, particularly when there is too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3.
New Facts About Fats and Health
Here are some research findings that might help you to change the way you think about fat in your diet:
#1. The Truth About Fats for Strokes and Heart Disease
Recent meta-analyses including data from hundreds of thousands of people have found no difference in the risk of stroke or heart disease between those on high fat and those on low fat diets. Other studies are showing that those with heart disease who replace saturated fat with Omega-6 rich vegetable fats increased their risk of death.
#2. Even "bad" Cholesterol May Not Be Bad
Better understanding is emerging of the role of cholesterol. We tend to think about HDL as the "good" cholesterol and LDL as the "bad" cholesterol. In fact, there are 2 types of LDL – small, dense LDL (which triples risk of heart disease) and large fluffy LDL (which protects against heart disease). Eating refined sugar and carbohydrates increases your levels of small, dense LDL. Eating saturated fat boosts HDL and can change dense LDL to the healthy fluffy kind.
#3. Glucose or Ketones as Body Fuel?
Your body can run on two types of fuel – glucose (mainly from carbohydrates) and ketones (from dietary or stored fats). Ketones are a cleaner burning source of fuel and release fewer free radicals than glucose.
#4. Don’t Store Excess Fuel as Fat
A low-fat high carbohydrate (LFHC) diet increases the level of glucose in your blood and stimulates the release of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that signals your body to store excess glucose as fat. When you change the primary source of fuel to fat (in the form of ketones), excess fuel is not stored. It is excreted through urine.
#5. Burn Up Dangerous Abdominal Fat
Stored body fat that is most dangerous to health is that found packed around the vital organs, and especially in the intra-abdominal areas. When carbohydrates are reduced, and the body runs on ketones, there is a significant reduction of this fat mass.
#6. Don’t Lose Weight – Lose Fat
There’s a difference between losing weight and losing fat. Many weight loss products cause you to lose water and lean muscle mass. However, when your body is burning ketones, you are literally burning up your fat stores.
Coconut Oil for Weight Loss: Why?
Coconut oil contains a very special type of saturated fat.
Top 4 Special Points About Coconut Oil
- It is comprised of more than 60% medium chain fatty acids or triglycerides. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are types of fatty acids containing 6–12 carbons. They include caproic acid (C6), caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10) and lauric acid (C12). Coconut oil is the best source of lauric acid of all foods – nearly 50% of the fatty acid content of coconut oil is lauric acid.
- Virgin coconut oil (VCO) has the highest levels of MCTs of all types of coconut oil.
- MCTs are used differently in the body than the long chain fatty acids that are found in most fats. And, MCTs are sent directly from the digestive tract to the liver and immediately used as energy or converted into ketones (and we’ve seen earlier that excess ketones are excreted, not stored as fat).
- MCTs lead to increased energy expenditure (in fact the body is shown to continue using energy for several hours following consumption) and increased satiety. This means that you tend to eat less. So, while more calories are being burned, fewer are being taken in. This effect facilitates weight maintenance.
Wait, the List Goes on
- Coconut oil has been shown to reduce dangerous abdominal or "belly fat". One study compared the impact of coconut oil and soybean oil on weight loss. Participants in both groups lost weight, but only those using coconut oil lost belly fat (in fact those on soybean oil increased belly fat!). In addition, those using coconut oil had increased HDL (good cholesterol), while the soybean group had decreased HDL and increased LDL (bad cholesterol.) Another study showed that men placed on a diet that included virgin coconut oil were more likely to lose belly fat than women. However, with virgin coconut oil it seems that women in general lose more body fat, while women with lower BMI will lose more abdominal fat.
- When carbohydrates in the diet are replaced with more nutrient-dense fats, blood glucose levels are reduced, less insulin is required, insulin resistance is reduced – and this leads to significant health benefits.
- Recent studies are showing that virgin coconut oil can not only prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), but can also reverse liver damage.
So, I think it is true to say that coconut oil is incredibly good for you. And, despite the naysayers who stick with the long-disproved theories about saturated fats, I would certainly recommend that you make it a regular part of your healthy diet.
And what about coconut oil for weight loss? If you want to lose weight, perhaps you can try some of the coconut oil capsules on the market as part of a nutrient-dense diet that will change you into a "fat-burning machine".
Look out for my next post, which will tell you how to select the best coconut oil capsules. It will help you understand the different labels such as virgin, refined, organic, liquid, hydrogenated – and a whole lot more that can have you scratching your head!
In the meantime, please let me know about your experiences with coconut oil as part of a healthy diet and for weight loss.
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