Why Is the Fat in Coconut Oil Better Than Other Cooking Oils?

In recent years, coconuts and coconut oil have begun gaining mass popularity for a wide number of reasons.

Coconuts, coconut water and coconut oil are now available at multiple retail outlets in many different forms.

As a water, it competes in the energy drink market, because it is naturally loaded with nutrients to assist with proper hydration, such as electrolytes and potassium. But the boundaries for this incredible gift from nature, do not stop with revitalizing drinks.

Coconuts, in some form or fashion have now crept into the health and beauty (soaps, cosmetics, shampoos), wellness (dietary supplements: immune support and weight loss), culinary (stable cooking oil and food ingredient) industries as well. In fact, the coconut has gained cultural and even religious significance in some areas of the world (Southwestern Nigeria is home to the Yoruba Religion, for example).

The remainder of this article, however, will focus on one particular aspect that has helped coconut oil gain deep, long-term support. This article will discuss the dramatic difference between the fat in coconut oil and the fat in other common oils.

For quite some time, it was believed that the fat in coconut oil was unhealthy, because of its high saturated fat content, as saturated fat is typically something that most doctors and clinical nutritionists will still scream to avoid. That being said, if those same doctors and nutritionists were aware of what is to follow, they may just scream for people to use it.

The difference between the fats in coconut oil and other oils, is simple. The saturated fat in coconut oil, is constructed of Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs), also known as Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). The saturated fat in most other common oils, is constructed of Long Chain Fatty Acids (LCFAs). In fact, the saturated and the unsaturated fats found in most animal (eggs, milk and meat) and vegetable sources (plants and oils), are comprised of LCFAs. This means, that if you are not paying attention to your diet, then as much as 98% to 100% of the fat you consume, may be LCFAs. And, that would not be good.

Glancing at the molecular level, all fats and oils are constructions of molecules called fatty acids. Consumers and doctors are generally acquainted with two methods to classify those fatty acids. The first method appears on the Nutrition Fact panels of foods and Supplement Fact panels of dietary supplements (vitamins). This method classifies fatty acids based on the amount of saturation, appearing as: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The second method classifies fatty acids based on the molecule size or the length of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. This method classifies fatty acids as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs). Again, coconut oil is comprised predominately of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

This second method of fatty acid classification by molecule size, is quite important, because our bodies respond to and process each fatty acid chain differently. This means that our bodies will process the MCFAs in coconut oil differently than our bodies process LCFAs.

It is generally accepted that MCFAs and LCFAs differ in quite substantial ways. For example:

  • MCFAs are believed to have little to no impact on blood cholesterol levels
  • MCFAs can be metabolized, processed and passed out of the body, where as LCFAs are much more readily and easily stored as fat.
  • Excess dietary long-chain fatty acid (LCFA) intake results in insulin resistance. Since medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) are preferentially oxidized over LCFA, it is hypothesized that diets rich in MCFA result in a lower ectopic lipid accumulation and insulin resistance compared to diets rich in LCFA (1).
  • MCFAs do not contribute significantly to weight gain and may promote weight loss. In a Netherlands study, High Fat MCFA diets gained less weight, had less ectopic lipid accumulation than those compared who maintained High Fat LCFA diets (1).

Because of this, it is also widely accepted that coconut oil:

  • consumption increases High Density Lipoprotein (HDL... the good cholesterol)
  • is rich in fatty acids that have natural antiviral, antibacterial properties
  • contains monolaurin which is the same anti-microbial agent found in human mother's milk
  • differs from hydrogenated (vegetable) oils, because hydrogenated oils have been shown to contain trans fats, which have been shown to raise LDLs... the bad cholesterol

In closing, please note that there are only a few known dietary sources of MCFAs and coconut oil will continue to grow in popularity as more and more people learn that it is one of the best natural sources.

(1) "High-fat diets rich in medium- versus long-chain fatty acids induce distinct patterns of tissue specific insulin resistance" by De Vogel-van den Bosch J, van den Berg SA, Bijland S, Voshol PJ, Havekes LM, Romijn HA, Hoeks J, van Beurden D, Hesselink MK, Schrauwen P and van Dijk KW. J Nutr Biochem. 2011 Apr;22(4):366-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2010.03.004. Epub 2010 Jul 23.

Article by Tawne Bachus. Originally Published January 11, 2013. Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Please note that while this site offers information, it should not be taken as medical advice.

Please consult a trusted medical professional before using the information on this site.

Results should be expected to vary from individual to individual. Also, please understand that you may still need to do other things to treat and support your health in addition to using the information on this site.

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