By Dr. Mercola
Many still believe that saturated fats like coconut oil are "fattening" and bad for your heart -- a pervasive myth that began in 1953 following the publication of a seriously flawed study by Dr. Ancel Keys.
But the truth is, coconut oil is actually one of the healthiest oils you can consume, especially for cooking, which is why it is one of only two oils you'll find a gallon container of in my kitchen.
Many are initially surprised when they learn coconut oil is actually good for you, but indeed it is -- and it may even help you attain your weight loss goals as well.
Why is Your Waist Size so Important?
As you may know, your waist size is not only a matter of aesthetics, but also a powerful indicator of a build-up of visceral fat, a dangerous type of fat around your internal organs that is strongly linked with type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Your waist size is a far more accurate predictor of your heart risks than even your body mass index (BMI), Your waist size is also a powerful indicator of insulin sensitivity, as studies clearly show that measuring your waist size is one of the most powerful ways to predict your risk for diabetes.
If you want to determine if your waist size is in a healthy range, use a tape measure to figure the distance around the smallest area of your abdomen below your rib cage and above your belly button. Then compare your measurements to this general guide:
- For men, between 37 and 40 inches is overweight and more than 40 inches is obese
- For women, 31.5-34.6 inches is overweight and more than 34.6 inches is obese
Coconut Oil Shrinks Your Waist Size
When 20 obese men added coconut oil to their diets for four weeks, their waist circumferences got significantly smaller, with a mean reduction of 2.86 cm. Researchers noted:
"[Virgin coconut oil] is efficacious for WC [waist circumference] reduction especially in males and it is safe for use in humans."
A similar 12-week-long study on women, published in the journal Lipids, also found that dietary supplementation with coconut oil may result in a reduction in waist circumference, among other benefits, compared to supplementing with soybean oil. Divided into two groups of 20 participants each, the women received a daily supplement of 30 ml (about two tablespoons) of either soybean oil or coconut oil. They also followed a balanced low-calorie diet, and walked for 50 minutes per day. The end result?
The coconut oil group presented:
- Increased levels of HDL (good cholesterol)
- Decreased LDL/HDL ratio
- Reduced waist circumference/abdominal obesity
The soybean oil group presented:
- Increased total cholesterol
- Increased LDL (bad cholesterol)
- Increased LDL/HDL ratio
- Decreased HDL (good cholesterol)
- No reduction in waist circumference/abdominal obesity
Many of coconut oil's benefits may be due to its content of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs, rather than the long chain fatty acids found in vegetable oils like soybean oil and animal fats such as lard. The authors concluded:
"It appears that dietetic supplementation with coconut oil does not cause dyslipidemia [an abnormal amount of cholesterol and/or fat in your blood] and seems to promote a reduction in abdominal obesity."
Why Coconut Oil's Medium-Chain Fatty Acids are so Good for You -- and Your Weight
Coconut oil is nature's richest source of healthy MCFAs. By contrast, most common vegetable or seed oils are comprised of long chain fatty acids (LCFAs), also known as long-chain triglycerides or LCTs. There are several reasons why these long-chain fatty acids are not as healthy for you as the MCFAs in coconut oil: Additionally, many LCFAs are from genetically engineered vegetable oils that are loaded with omega-6 fats. Not only do you want to avoid the genetically engineered foods, but even if they were organic these vegetable oils should be avoided as they are high processed and also distort you fragile omega 6/3 ratio.
- LCFAs are difficult for your body to break down -- they must be packaged with lipoproteins or carrier proteins and require special enzymes for digestion.
- LCFAs put more strain on your pancreas, your liver and your entire digestive system.
- LCFAs are predominantly stored in your body as fat.
- LCFAs, when oxidized, can deposit within arteries, contributing to both blood vessel inflammation and plaque build-up.
On the other hand, the MCFAs in coconut oil are more health promoting, because:
- MCFAs are smaller. They permeate cell membranes easily, and do not require lipoproteins or special enzymes to be utilized effectively by your body.
- MCFAs are easily digested, thus putting less strain on your digestive system. This is especially important for those of you with digestive or metabolic concerns.
- MCFAs are sent directly to your liver, where they are immediately converted into energy rather than being stored as fat.
- MCFAs in coconut oil can actually help stimulate your body's metabolism, leading to weight loss.
There are numerous studies showing that MCFAs promote weight loss, including one study that showed rats fed LCFAs stored body fat, while rats fed MCFAs reduced body fat and improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Yet another study found that overweight men who ate a diet rich in MCFAs lost more fat tissue compared to those eating a high-LCFA diet, presumably due to increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation from the MCGA intake.
"Thus, MCTs may be considered as agents that aid in the prevention of obesity or potentially stimulate weight loss."
Additionally, a very exciting discovery is that coconut oil may even serve as a natural treatment for Alzheimer's disease, as MCT's are also a primary source of ketone bodies, which act as an alternate source of brain fuel that can help prevent the brain atrophy associated with dementia. Coconut oil is also rich in the medium-chain fatty acid derivative lauric acid, which converts in your body to monolaurin -- a compound also found in breast milk that strengthens a baby's immunity and has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties.
How Coconut Oil Was Miscast as a Dietary Villain
Saturated fat like coconut oil has been wrongfully vilified as the cause of high cholesterol and heart disease for the last 60 years, when in fact the converse was true all along. You can read the details of how this widely perpetuated myth became conventional medicine's dietary dogma here, but basically it was spawned from a series of flawed studies that snowballed the theory out of control.
Coconut oil, in particular, continued to be demonized by the vegetable oil industry throughout the ensuing decades. The soybean industry was especially ruthless in their condemnation of the use of tropical oils, and I'm sure you realize the reason why – competition ... and millions and millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, the tropical oil industry, centered in poorer nations like the Philippines and Indonesia, could not afford to counter the negative propaganda spread by rich American industrial conglomerates. And in the United States coconut oil largely disappeared from the radar, except among small groups of health-seekers who had examined the research for themselves and/or experienced positive results firsthand.
Through it all, however, the healing properties of coconut oil were apparent for anyone who was willing to see them. Back in the 1930's, a dentist named Dr. Weston Price traveled throughout the South Pacific, examining traditional diets and their effect on dental and overall health. He found that those who consumed diets high in coconut products were healthy and trim, despite the high fat concentration in their diet.
Similarly, in 1981, researchers studied populations of two Polynesian atolls. Coconut was the chief source of caloric energy in both groups. The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, demonstrated that both populations exhibited positive vascular health. There was no evidence that the high saturated fat intake had a harmful effect in these populations.
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Why Coconut Oil is the Superior Choice for Cooking
Whether you're trying to lose weight or not, using coconut oil as your primary cooking oil is important because it is the only one that is stable enough to resist heat-induced damage. Extra-virgin olive oil, while great as a salad dressing or for other non-heated uses, should not be used for cooking. Due to its chemical structure (it's one double carbon bond per fatty acid), heat makes it susceptible to oxidative damage.
And polyunsaturated fats, which include common vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola, are absolutely the worst oils to use in cooking. These omega-6 oils are highly susceptible to heat damage because of their multiple double bonds.
Coconut oil is far superior to any other cooking oil and is loaded with health benefits, not to mention flavor. Make sure you choose an organic coconut oil that is unrefined, unbleached, made without heat processing or chemicals, and does not contain genetically engineered ingredients.