Everyone seems to be talking about coconut oil these days. It's almost as if it is a miracle cure for everything!
But what exactly is it about coconut oil that makes it so healthy? And which type is best?
Let’s dive into some of the fascinating research and find out.
Coconut oil is a special kind of fat
Coconut oil is a saturated fat and like all fats it contains the 9 calories per gram. It is extracted from the "meat" of the coconut. Coconut oil is a white solid at room temperature and easily melts into a clear liquid on a hot day.
The idea of adding coconut oil to your diet is NOT to add on to what you already eat but to substitute it for some of the (possibly) less healthy fats you may be eating now.
And here’s why - Because not all calories or fats are created equal.
Coconut oil contains a unique type of fat known as “Medium Chain Triglycerides” (MCTs). In fact, 65% of the fat in coconut oil are these MCTs. The MCTs content of coconut oil is what gives it its “miracle” properties!
Coconut oil contributes to boosting metabolism
What makes MCTs unique is how your body metabolizes them; they're easily absorbed into the bloodstream by your gut, where they go straight to the liver, and they're burned for fuel or converted into "ketones."
This metabolic process, unique to MCTs, is what sets coconut oil apart from other fats. Coconut oil is therefore a "thermogenic" substance - eating it tends to increase energy expenditure (fat burning) compared to the same amount of calories from other fats.
By replacing the fats they are eating with MCT fats, people burn more calories, resulting in a higher metabolic rate. In fact, a few studies show that coconut oil may increase the number of calories you burn by as much as 5%.
Therefore, a calorie from coconut oil is NOT the same as a calorie from olive oil or butter (although these fats are perfectly healthy too!).
MCTs may help with fat loss
Coconut oil’s MCTs have been shown to have a few different fat loss benefits.
First, it can help to increase feelings of fullness, which can lead to a natural reduction in the amount of food you eat.
Second, because of their unique metabolic route, MCTs can also increase the number of calories you burn; this happens when you compare the calories burned after eating the same amount of other fats.
Just remember not to add coconut oil to your diet without reducing other fats and oils! You still need to keep your calories intake in balance!
Coconut oil supports your immune system
The MCTs and monoglycerides found in coconut oil are the same as the ones found in human mother’s milk, which we know have extraordinary anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Other fatty acids, in particular lauric acid, in coconut oil are also known to protect against infection from bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi and parasites.
Coconut oil has a direct effect in suppressing inflammation and repairing tissue, and it may also contribute by inhibiting harmful intestinal microorganisms that cause chronic inflammation.
How much coconut oil should I eat?
Many of the studies that showed increased fullness, increased metabolism, and reduced belly fat only used about 2 tablespoons per day.
You probably don’t need any more than that. Consider that this corresponds to around 250 calories!
What kind of coconut oil is the best?
There are so many coconut oil options available in grocery stores these days
that it can make it difficult to know which is best.
I recommend you stay away from "refined" ones, and opt for "virgin" coconut oil. That is because it is processed at lower temperatures and avoids some of the chemical solvents used in the refining process; this helps to preserve more of the oil's natural health-promoting antioxidants.
Pro Tip: Always (and I mean ALWAYS) avoid "hydrogenated" coconut oil. It can be a health nightmare because it contains the infamous "trans fats" produced during the hydrogenation process.
One thing you should also consider is that each oil has a specific high temperature that you should avoid surpassing (e.g. its "smoke point"). For virgin coconut oil, that temperature is 350F. That means you can safely use it on the stovetop on a low-medium setting, as well as in most baking.
Oh, and it tastes great too!