Monthly Archives: May 2009

Coconut Oil Study #2 It Makes You Hot!

Coconut Oil Study #2  It Makes You Hot!

Competency # 13 Fats

Reference: Philippine Journal of Cardiology July-Sept 2003 3:97-104

I have to admit,  I have spent much of my life with an attitude against coconuts.  There is something about the texture that bothers me.  My tipping point came when I read the first Tokelau research study.  How could people eat 70% of their calories from saturated fat and be as healthy as the Tokelauns could be?  It seemed impossible.  There is very little research in the American nutritional literature on coconuts.  To find relevant literature, you have to delve into the obscure sources like the Ceylon Medical Journal and the blogs and websites from nutritionists.  Perhaps the most reputable would be “The People’s Pharmacy,” the well-regarded National Public Radio program that interviewed Sally Falon from the Weston Price Institute.

Dr. Falon listed three principal means by which coconut oil exerts its beneficial effects.  First of all, being saturated is just not a problem.  Coconut oil is a mid-length fat, molecularly speaking.  It’s not as long as saturated fat from animals.  Because of that, it’s absorbed quite differently.  It is taken up directly by cells and shunted into metabolism.  As a consequence, it actually revs you up a bit, raising your body temperature.  That seems to be why it is so widely reported to be helpful to folks losing weight.  Because of its increased “thermogenesis,” your body just plain burns more calories, even more than the calories in the coconut oil.  Makes you hot…that’s cool!

Its second beneficial effect is that of being an “essential oil.”  In that regard, it does something unique to your immune system that seems to turn on your immune response.  The principle fat in coconut oil is lauric acid.  Your body changes that into monolauren.  That compound does things to viruses.  It seems to dissolve their fatty membrane, destroying them.  Interestingly enough, breast fed infants get lauric acid from their feedings in the range of about 1 gram per two pounds of weight.  We adults don’t get any in our diet.  If we were to consume whole milk from grass-raised cows, we would.  Pasteurized milk from grain-raised cows doesn’t provide that lauric acid.

Finally, coconut oil does something good to folks with bowel disease.  The thought is that it is an important element for the naturally beneficial bacteria in your gut.  Whatever the cause, there is no standard literature on it, but there sure are lots of anecdotes floating around the internet about people who claim their Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis got much better when they started taking a couple of teaspoons a day of coconut oil.

What’s the bottom line?  There is now clear evidence that coconut oil is not harmful for cardiovascular disease.  As a saturated fat, it seems to be in a class all of its own by nature of it being a shorter fat that is digested differently.  The population studies from around the world have repeatedly shown that coconut oil, consumed in large quantities, is associated again and again with good health outcomes.

WWW:  What will work for me.  I don’t have any bowel disease.  If I did, I would take two teaspoons a day.  But I would love to lose some weight.  Next time I’m at Outpost, I’m going to buy a bottle and try the taste.  If I can use two teaspoons a day for a month (on a salad or added to pizza) and lose even two pounds, you’ll hear about it…after I buy 10 more bottles!

The Tokolau Island Coconut Study: Saturated Fat or Food from Paradise?

The Tokolau Island Coconut Study: Saturated Fat or Food from Paradise?

Competency # 13 Fats

Reference: Philippine Journal of Cardiology July-Sept 2003 3:97-104

Tokolau Island, a tiny coral atoll in the Pacific, is part of the smallest country and economy on this planet.  It is also the nation most at risk of global warming, being only a few feet above sea level.  We’ve done a column on Tokolau before talking about how the Tokolauns eat as much as 55% of their calories from saturated coconut oil, and don’t have heart disease.  We have also explored how some 50% of them migrated to New Zealand as their population increased and a hurricane damaged much of the island in the 1970s.  The migrants on New Zealand started eating much more sugar and white flour and started developing obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease.  The folks staying behind didn’t, eating 40-70% of their calories from saturated fat, coconut oil.

What’s the deal?  Do we understand why?  Well, in fact we do.  The Philippine, Malaysian and Indonesian medical communities have been intensely interested in this topic because their natural foods include tons of coconuts.  We have to look to them to find out.

Turns out, it’s all in the length of the fatty acids.  The coconut fat molecule is only 14 carbons long, compared to most animal fats that are around 18 carbons long.  That difference is critical.  We call those MEDIUM chain fatty acids (MCFAs).  They behave quite differently in your body.  Instead of being digested in the liver and turned into triglycerides and fatty acids in the LDL and VLDL family, they are immediately taken up in cells and digested.  In fact, coco oil tends to raise the HDL and lower the LDL:HDL ratio.  It tends not to be deposited in fat tissue.   And it’s not associated with coronary artery disease.  Net result: Sri Lanka has 1 death from coronary artery disease per 100,000 lives compared to the USA at around 37-40 per 100,000.  Research studies directly comparing corn and coconut oil shows that the HDL/LDL ratio drops on corn oil, even when the total cholesterol goes down.

It’s the same story in the Philippines, they consume tons of coconut oil and have an inverse relationship of heart disease to the amount of coconut oil they eat.  So, the Tokolau diet of high saturated fat is not atherogenic.  It’s not the saturated fat, it’s the saturated fat from animals that’s bad.  Probably critical to the formula on Tokolau Island is the presence of fish with abundant fresh omega-3 fatty acids, and lots and lots of sunshine.

WWW:  What will work for me.  I’m really curious.  I put coconut oil all over me to suntan as a teenager.  And I greased my hair with it, back when I had some.  Now, there is a buzz going around about coconut oil for other beneficial effects.  Is it an essential oil?  It sounds actually anti-atherogenic.  It’s a good fat.  It fights heart disease.  I’m looking to buy some and see how it tastes, perhaps in a yogurt smoothie?

Omega Fatty Acids # 4: Nitty Gritty of Getting to Balance

Omega Fatty Acids # 4:  Nitty Gritty of Getting to Balance

Competency # 13 Fats

Reference: Minireview, Center for Genetics, Nutr and Health, 2008

The story of how omega fats work out their magic is not completely finished.  There is contradictory evidence and a lot of research going on.  My belief is that it makes good sense to try and make the changes that I can.  I change slowly but with practice, I can get on the bus.

Strategy # 1.  Stop eating as many omega-6s.  Most vegetable oils are mostly omega-6 fats.  Corn oil and soy bean oil are two big sources of omega-6.  Olive oil is only 8% omega-6.  Switching to olive oil is one good strategy.  Just stop using or buying corn oil.  The lower the total omega-6s you eat, the less omega-3s you need to add back.  Become a vegetable oil detective and find ways to get away from all that grease.

Strategy # 2.  Eat more nuts.  Almost all nuts have lots of great omega-3s in them.  Walnuts and almonds are probably the kings, but just about every nut has been found to be great when folks get around to studying it.  When the pistachio farmers fund a study on pistachios, sure enough, they were also great.

Strategy #3.  Eat Healthy Meats.  Eat Salmon, sardines, fatty fish or any fish for that matter.  Grass fed beef is fine, as is bison, caribou, elk, deer – as long as its not feed lot raised.  White poultry meat is also good-if it’s free range and can eat bugs and grass.  (Tall order and not common)

Strategy #4.  Eat Leafy Green Vegetables.  Spinach is king, but so is kale, swiss chard, romaine and all the rest of the greens.  They are the origins of omega-3s.  Eat lots of them (This is why vegans have healthy levels of DHA and EPA as long as they eat NO trans fats.)

Strategy #5.  EAT NO TRANS FATS.  They block your natural production of ALA to EPA and DHA.  Become a trans fat detective.  Dairy topping, pie crust, fried food at restaurants, french fries, hash browns…

Strategy #6.  Add natural ALA… flax seed, ground up and added to your cereal or think of other sources.   Chia seeds aren’t just for silly, window “pets” – they are loaded with ALA.  ALA capsules are also effective.  (There are others: primrose, hemp, borage.)

Strategy # 7.  Take Fish Oil.  This might be the single best strategy of all.  If you aren’t taking a gram a day, you must start.  That, by itself, will get you down to 4:1 if you cut the corn oil and soy oil.  Get used to those three capsules each and every day.  If you can, take it twice a day and get 2 grams, so much the better.  Any brand will do.  Virtually none have any mercury in them.

Strategy #8.  Low Temperature Cooking.  High heat cooking naturally makes trans fats.  Grilling, frying, broiling all make natural trans fats in addition to AGEs (advanced glycation products) that are separately problematic.  Boiling, steaming and baking are lower temp methods that make less natural trans fats.

WWW. What will work for me?  Sharing recipes!  I’m ok with the fish oil.  I eat flax every day.  I’m not so good at avoiding the fried spring rolls at the local Chinese, which are probably loaded with trans fats.  But, I’m getting better.  No fries, recently.