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Cracking the Myth of Coconut Oil

— By Dr. Annie Salsberg, ND —

There has been a lot of talk about coconut oil lately. Everywhere I turn people are sharing their favourite uses, best recipes, and the oil’s health promoting effects. The poor coconut was overlooked for a long time. And when not ignored, it was flat out maligned for its saturated fat content. Finally, the coconut is enjoying some well-deserved time in the spotlight.

Coconut oil has a variety of applications. Many already enjoy it for cooking and as a cosmetic agent. However, we are seeing increasing evidence of therapeutic applications, notably in the areas of obesity/weight management, heart disease, seizure disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and athletic performance.

Coconut oil is very stable. This means that it is resistant to rancidity and is a wonderful heat-resilient frying oil. It is a delicious butter substitute and far superior to hydrogenated vegetable shortening (which contains trans fats). It can be used in baking, as a spread or to fry.

Coconut oil is a source of medium chain fatty acids, as well as polyphenols and vitamin E. Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs) have a number of important, health-promoting effects in the body. They are more easily digested than longer fatty acids and are a preferred source of energy at the cellular level.  This makes them a wonderful fuel for athletes. Coconut oil may boost energy and enhance capacity for endurance.

Furthermore, coconut oil has been shown to increase metabolism after meals and even inhibit fat-generating genes. Coconut oil is a great adjunct to a healthy weight management program.

Unlike some other saturated fats, coconut oil will not increase triglycerides after a meal. Rather, HDL (the “good” cholesterol) increases, while total cholesterol and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) decrease. Coconut oil also seems to increase insulin sensitivity, helping the body to better manage sugar. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and stable blood sugar are an essential part of a heart disease prevention strategy.

Evidence also seems to support the use of coconut oil in seizure prevention. It increases ketones in the plasma; ketogenic diets have been shown to decrease seizure activity in some individuals.

This list could go on and on…. and, we are making new discoveries about coconut oil and Medium Chain Fatty Acids all the time. There are many great reasons to embrace coconut oil – I just hope that the coconut bandwagon is sticking around for a good long while!