UK celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, speaks out in an Australian online magazine about why coconut oil may not be the wonder ingredient that everyone’s touting it is.

We at ANH feel that mainstream dieticians, doctors and even academics who are grimly hanging on to the ‘saturated fat is bad’ myth no matter how much evidence exists to the contrary are misleading large swathes of the public. With Jamie’s new book, Everyday Super Food just out, we’ll be looking eagerly to see whether coconut oil made it to the last edit.

In short, hitting out against coconut oil makes no sense given the weight of evidence. We’ll briefly take you through some of the science about coconut oil and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) to show you why.

It’s a pretty confusing world of mixed health messages out there. But in the maze of messaging, the pursuit of health, longevity and vitality appears to be central. But whom should we listen to? Who are today’s health and wellbeing spin doctors? Following the money is usually a good starting point. Swiftly followed by keeping tabs on what the myth busters that have science on their side are saying. One of the biggest myths to be busted in recent years is the cholesterol myth, which we won’t go into again here. Suffice to say, low-fat processed foods, along with statins-for-the-over-50s, are just two examples of internationally coordinated health policy messages pushed by governments around the world that have both been shown to be deeply flawed and against the public interest.

As more and more people discover the benefits of low or no added sugar, low simple carb and healthy fat diets that promote nutritional ketosis (and therefore clean, fat-burning), we are likely to be bombarded by more efforts to unhook us from the belief that MCT oils are actually good for us. Let’s be prepared.

MCTs – attractive facts

(see bibliography and references below for further detail)

  1. Fat basics. Saturated fats are solid at room temp, which is why you’ll find your coconut oil and goose fat sitting solid in a jar in air-conditioned supermarkets and cold kitchens. But the fact that these two fats turn solid at room temperature doesn’t mean they behave the same way in your body. Far from it!
  2. MCTs are transported from the gut to the liver and are immediately usable, whilst being burned ‘cleanly’ (unlike carbs) for energy. The fact that they’re used immediately for the brain, organs and muscles means they’re not stored as fat either.
  3. This rapid conversion to energy also results in the production of ketones – the preferred fuel of the brain. Hence MCTs are a better choice for those with increased energy needs e.g. following major illness or surgery, during normal or stunted growth, to enhance athletic performance and endurance, and to counteract the decreased energy production that results from aging. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want anti-aging support?
  4. In terms of weight loss aids, MCTs have a lower calorie content than other fats, are minimally stored as fat, and actually enhance metabolism which means you burn more calories – even when you’re sleeping!
  5. MCTs are anti-inflammatory, help support the immune system, increase high density lipoproteins (HDL: good cholesterol), have a slight blood sugar lowering effect and even act as anti-coagulants.
  6. Long-chain triglycerides (e.g. safflower, soybean, corn oil) may promote inflammation due to conversion of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids into arachidonic acid-derived eicosanoids.
  7. Much of the knowledge about the fundamental differences between the metabolism of medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides has been known for decades, particularly through studies of appropriate fats for use in parenteral nutrition (tube feeding), where patients often have upregulated immune systems, an increased demand for energy and higher risks of pathogenic infection.
  8. Coconut oil, rich in MCTs, is also chemically stable at higher temperatures and therefore good for cooking. Unstable oils that are damaged by heat, have a less than desirable effect on the body too.
  9. If you’re not yet convinced you can read more about the range of positive health effects of coconut oil from this presentation on coconut oil from Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
  10. Lastly, in case you think otherwise, evidence of the differences in metabolism of vegetable-based MCTs and animal-derived saturated fats in animals have been known for a long time (e.g. 1982). This is not new science and coconut oil as a heat-stable addition to our diets is long overdue.

Conclusion

We are often the victims of excessive categorisation. One such problem is using the term ‘saturated fat’ to describe all fats that are, to use the chemistry term, ‘saturated’ (i.e. fats in which the orbitals in carbon chains are fully bonded with hydrogen atoms). Slight differences in structure can lead to great differences in metabolism and health consequences following their consumption. The ‘lipid hypothesis’ that drove public health and nutrition policy for over 3 decades is now defunct scientifically.

Based on the existing evidence, knowledge of biochemical pathways, as well as decades of experience from clinical and sports nutrition, MCTs must be regarded as a beneficial fat. MCTs behave in the body quite differently from animal-based saturated fats, which, in moderation, can also be a useful addition to the diet. We have to look at the big picture – at all of the available evidence.

We are adamant that those who attempt to dismiss MCTs as an unhealthy fad diet have yet to have the privilege of either engaging with the known science or deriving its benefits.

Further reading / Bibliography

Some key papers:

Medium chain triglycerides: an update.

The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between.

An update on parenteral lipids and immune function: only smoke, or is there any fire?

A comparison of medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides in surgical patients.

[http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242757/]

Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs): Beneficial Effects on Energy, Atherosclerosis and Aging.

Additional lay articles

David Mendosa: The best saturated fats.

Mercola: Coconut oil – this cooking oil is a powerful virus destroyer and antibiotic.