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Coconut oil benefits explained

Coconut oil benefits us in many ways. It's readily utilised by the body, it's an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory and it tastes awesome. Paul Johnson MSc, BSc, SENr explains why you should use coconut oil as part of your diet.

A little information regarding fat

Saturated fat has been given a bad reputation in the past and was demonised in the 1990s through to 2000s as a consequence. Saturated fat has long been associated with poor health and greater risk of disease, this notion first came about due to a researcher called Ancel Keys and his famous 'Seven Countries Study'. This study tracked the fat consumption and heart disease levels of various nations. It was named after the seven countries that saw an increase in heart disease cases corresponding with increased fat consumption. The study looked at the relationship between how much saturated fat was eaten and the risk of heart disease, this data then created what is known as the 'lipid hypothesis', which is simply that dietary fat increases cholesterol and in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Since this initial theory, it has now come to light that many factors can impact health and pointing the finger solely at fat and more specifically saturated fat is overly simplistic. As a result of this, the mainstream view of fats is that they are responsible for the increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, where the reality is that certain fats have a hugely beneficial effect on the body.

Coconut oil benefits - the new superfat

This is where coconut oil stands out. Coconut oil does contain saturated fats, but it also contains significant amounts of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT), roughly 65% in total. MCT fatty acids are digested and utilised differently to other fats. They are not packaged into lipoproteins and do not circulate in the bloodstream like other fats. MCTs are sent directly to the liver where they are immediately converted into energy and so act more like a carbohydrate than a fat, which normally takes significantly longer to be metabolised and either stored or burnt for energy. As a result, coconut oil avoids being stored as body fat and may have a positive effect on increasing metabolic rate; hence replacing vegetable oils or refined carbohydrates with coconut oil may have a positive effect on body composition. The second additional benefit of coconut oil is that because they are rapidly absorbed by the intestines and carried by the portal vein to the liver to be burnt off for energy, they do not enter the cholesterol cycle; this means that they do not raise cholesterol levels compared to other sources of fat. Studies have suggested that countries that consume the highest amount of coconut oil have the lowest incidence of heart disease and cholesterol related disease. Coconut oil has a high smoking point (450°F) meaning it better for cooking as the structure of the oil in not destroyed at higher temperatures. When vegetable and nut oils are heated their fat becomes oxidised and rancid. These fats are associated with oxidative stress inside the body and can lead to inflammation, heart disease, arthritis and cancers. Additional benefits that may be obtained from the consumption of coconut oil include:
  • The prevention of various stomach and digestion related problems including chronic fatigue syndrome, IBS, and Crohn's disease, however it is important to note that these are only initial findings and need further research behind them before solid claims can be made and justified.
  • Antibacterial properties due to coconuts oil lauric acid content.
  • Acting as a moisturiser for skin and while helping to heal wounds.
  • Helping repair damaged hair while acting as a conditioner.
  • Antioxidant qualities.
  • Anti-inflammatory qualities.

Who should you use coconut oil?

1. Those on low carb diets: when carbs are low some people experience low energy and find it hard to maintain exercise intensity, the use of coconut oil provides easily available energy without having to increase carbohydrate intake. 2. Those Carb Back Loading (CBL): This has become a popular nutritional strategy where carb’s are kept low during the day, and eaten post training in the evening, as with those following a low carb approach, coconut oil can be used pre training to provide energy help maximise training. 3. Those looking to maximise fat loss: Due to the high MCT content and the work the liver does to convert them to energy, metabolic rate may increase as a result, aiding calorie expenditure. It has also been suggested that coconut oil may suppress appetite, which may help control calorie intake. Finally coconut oil may increase ketone production, which helps the body burn more fat, this helps create a negative fat balance. It has been suggested that combining coconut oil with caffeine improve the effects of both the coconut oil and ketone production and the uptake of caffeine to the brain, meaning less caffeine would be required to get a relative effect on performance and fat burning.

How to use coconut oil

1. Stir-fries: Due to its high smoking point, coconut oil is the perfect oil to use when looking with a high temperature, it also tastes awesome. 2. In coffee: Due to coconut oil being a saturated fat, hence solid at room temperature, its needs to be melted. The ideally way of doing this is by adding it to coffee. This not only helps combine the MCTs from the coconut oil with caffeine, but the hot coffee turns the coconut oil liquid. Oh, and it also tastes awesome to.

Coconut oil take home points

1. Thinking all fats and saturated fats are bad is an over simplified view and does not take into account other lifestyle factors. 2. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but contains a high percentage of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), which are rapidly converted to energy and less likely to be stored as body fat. 3. Coconut oil may aid people looking to lose body fat by suppressing appetite, having a positive effect on metabolic rate and increasing ketone production, which aids fat burning. 4. Coconut oil may help improve or maintain exercise performance and intensity by providing energy for sessions when consumed pre workout, especially when combined with caffeine. 5. Coconut oil tastes awesome.
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