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This article was written by Dr. Jonathan Goodman, an experienced naturopathic physician who seeks to promote health through education, inspiration, humor, cutting-edge science and ancient medical wisdom. Check out his website here or follow him on Facebook

Saturated fat is a killer, right?  Eat low fat to lose weight?  Wrong.  Anyone who reads the news or keeps up on popular health blogs now knows that fat doesn’t make you fat, and that saturated fat is not the bogeyman. As a naturopathic physician with a specialty in weight loss, I can attest to coconut oil’s benefit for healthy weight.

In fact, more and more evidence from research and traditional dietary practices reveals that coconut oil, high in saturated fat, could be the answer to many of the ailments we struggle with today.  I recommend coconut oil to all my patients since it is so easily tolerated with very rare allergic reactions. 

Who eats coconut oil?

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Coconut and its oil have been a staple of diets in India, Sri Lanka, the Phillipines, Thailand and other countries for thousands of years.  Coconut has made its way to the Caribbean where it is enjoyed as a food and in many beverages.  In many of these countries, up to 63% of calories come from coconut and coconut oil.  In Thailand, where so many dishes are prepared with coconut oil, heart disease is relatively rare

Coconut Oil’s saturated fat is mostly in the form of lauric acid,  which accounts for over 40 percent of the fat content.  (USDA.gov). 

Lauric acid’s benefits:

1. Lauric acid is a major ingredient in breast milk and is found in very few other foods.  A medium chain fatty acid (MCFA), lauric acid can be converted into monolaurin, which is effective at killing bacteria and viruses (drweil.com)

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2. Lauric acid is also known to raise HDL, or good cholesterol, leading many to consider it protective against heart disease (Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester AD, Katan MB: Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials.Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 77, 1146–1155 (2003). )

So what else is this staple of so many cultures’ diets good for?

3. Coconut oil is a great source of energy.  Since it contains Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), coconut oil is easily absorbed and readily available for energy use.  MCTs are the preferred fuel used for patients who can’t digest properly.   

4. Coconut oil can help you lose fat.  As we are learning (or un-learning), fat doesn’t make you fat.  The body takes the fat we eat and uses it for energy.  What isn’t needed gets eliminated.   More importantly, fat satisfies your hunger and keeps you satisfied longer.  Fat contains 9 calories per gram versus carbohydrate and protein at 4. A nice smoothie made with coconut oil will keep you going for hours. 

5. Coconut oil may help prevent or treat dementia.  Coconut oil can increase the level of ketones in the body.  Ketones are an alternative to sugar as brain fuel.  Some studies are showing that these ketones may slow or reverse the progression to Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.   

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Alzheimer’s is considered by many to be a form of diabetes (type 3 diabetes) where too much sugar over time leads to insulin resistance and buildup of plaque in brain tissue.  Eating more oil and less sugar is a sensible way to combat this process, as fat does nothing to promote insulin resistance and is an essential nutrient of brain cells.

Neurotherapeutics. 2008 Jul;5(3):470-80. doi: 10.1016/j.nurt.2008.05.004.

Ketone bodies as a therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease. Henderson ST1.

6. Coconut oil is great for the skin. Fat is a natural moisturizer and important component of healthy skin.  Coconut oil is stable at room temperature so it makes a great ingredient for soaps, creams and shampoos.  Sodium lauryl sulfate, a cousin of lauric acid, is a commonly used cleanser in soaps and shampoos.  Since it contains a small amount of the antiseptic monolaurin, coconut oil can help kill bacteria on the skin that can lead to acne.

7. Coconut oil helps improve digestion. Many of us suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and indigestion.  We feel bloated and constipated or have diarrhea, dreading eating for fear we will be in pain for hours afterward.  Coconut oil offers an alternative, easy to digest source of calories with little or no risk of  indigestion.  Since it is so high in medium chain triglycerides, coconut oil is easily absorbed and calms the digestive sytem, reducing motility or intestinal activity, particularly helpful for those with the type of IBS associated with diarrhea.

Do I need to eat coconut oil or can I just have coconut?  If you want the benefits of coconut oil, you can certainly eat the coconut meat either whole or as flakes.    A quarter cup of coconut flakes has  a tablespoon of oil.  That’s 120 calories.  I love coconut oil for cooking, and coconut flakes for baking and for “fat bombs”, delicious treats made with coconut and dark chocolate, another heart healthy food. 

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