A Fat for Thinning

July 26, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Coconut oil has remarkable properties. (Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)
Coconut oil has remarkable properties. (Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)
For two years, there was an opened jar of coconut oil on my kitchen shelf. I was getting increasingly apprehensive about using it, as I had visions of rancidity setting in.

When I was sure the oil must be rancid, I opened it again and took a whiff. It smelled just like fresh coconut after all, and I never found out at what age rancidity does set in for coconut oil or if it does.

Now I use it all the time as cooking oil and shortening and buy it by the gallon.

If there were a contest for the vegetable food source that was most replete with nutrition, coconuts would be among the winners.

This article is about just one derivative of the coconut—coconut oil, the fat that thins by increasing metabolism and increasing energy.

Coconut oil is a saturated fat struggling along with butter and palm oil to regain its good reputation among the majority of dieticians, doctors, the FDA, and people who think they can get thin by not eating fat. However, it is becoming ever more popular among those who choose wholesome food.

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, except in the summer, when it liquefies at about 76 degrees.

Once Vilified

How did coconut oil get its bad reputation? Before WW II, coconut and palm oil were both used extensively as cooking oils, but these oils became unavailable when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. During the war, hydrogenated vegetable oils were introduced, even taking the place of butter, and the vegetable-oil industry was born.

Heart attacks caused about 10 percent of deaths before the war. In the 1950s, studies came out vilifying saturated fats and cholesterol. By then, heart attacks caused 40 percent of deaths. Recently, in the 1990s, careful studies have negated the early ones that blamed saturated fat for cardiovascular disease, but these more-recent studies are not well-publicized.

In the 1970s, studies were done feeding animals hydrogenated coconut oil. Hydrogenation destroys all the essential fatty acids. The animals’ serum cholesterol increased, and their arteries became coated with plaque. Cardiovascular disease followed.

Coconut oil has now arrived back on the food scene as a powerful food. On the Internet, people are sharing their positive experiences, while maverick chemists and nutritionists are hard at work to get our health and weight back as it was in the 1920s.

An Aid in Weight Loss

Coconut oil can help you lose weight and help keep you thin. The oil is very easily digested because it is a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT). MCTs are smaller molecules than most fats and therefore do not have to be digested by the bile or pancreatic enzymes. They slip directly into the bloodstream from the intestines, thence to the liver where they are metabolized.

Long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) must be digested with pancreatic enzymes and bile, turned into lipoproteins, and circulated around the body, many of them coming to rest in fat cells, the rest ending up in the liver. A portion of LCTs end up as undigested fat if the pancreas isn’t up to par, causing problems.

The direct absorption of MCTs saves energy and increases metabolism, even raising body temperature. There is a stimulating effect on the thyroid, and the body goes into mode for breaking down fat. People eating MCTs for one meal eat less at the next.

Some lose weight even as they ingest the same amount of calories. Fitness buffs in the know add coconut oil to their protein drinks. (Coconutresearchcenter.org/article10612.htm)

Cholesterol

It will be good news for those with cholesterol phobia that coconut oil has a regulating effect of increasing HDL and lowering LDL, raising cholesterol in those with low cholesterol and lowering it for those with high cholesterol.

Many studies were done testing cholesterol levels with coconut oil and polyunsaturated oils. The polyunsaturated oils such as peanut, corn, and soy lowered cholesterol more than the coconut oil. That was because polyunsaturated fats “drive” cholesterol into the tissues.

Most arterial plaque is from polyunsaturated fat. One-quarter of it is from saturated fat, but none from coconut oil. (Westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/541-new-look-at-coconut-oil.html)

In a 1981 study of two Polynesian populations who live on two atolls and whose diets consist mainly of coconuts, it was found that both populations had good vascular health in spite of a high saturated-fat coconut diet. When they moved to New Zealand, reducing their intake of coconut oil, their LDL increased and HDL decreased. (Prior et. Al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

There are very good virgin, organic coconut oils and coconut products available. Buying in bulk is cheaper. Since coconut oil does not spoil or need refrigeration, it can easily be stored.