Understanding the Hype About Coconut Oil

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This little jar of oil has been making quite a splash in internet news and diet trends the past couple of years. But it’s no new thing: heritage cuisines have been making use of this naturally occurring substance for hundreds of years, using it in everything from cooking to topical remedies. It seems everybody these days has something to say about coconut oil and its many uses; it can be difficult to navigate to the truth of the recommendations.

Here, we go into the scientific basis for all these many health-boosting claims, in the hopes of simplifying the issue and clarifying the broad claims.

Full of MCT’s (medium-chain triglycerides) oil from coconuts is a power-house of essential fatty acids that have special privilege in the body. Because these fatty acids contain fewer carbon atoms that their long-chain siblings, they do not require bile salts to emulsify into a useable form when they process through the small intestine; they are instead taken directly into the liver, requiring no energy to store, use, or absorb. This process produces a quick burst of energy, but not the kind you have a crash from later, as with caffeine or sugar. This energy comes from giving the body a perfect kind of fuel, and the machine runs smoothly as a result.

Among the most highly prized of the MCTs is lauric acid, containing 12 carbon atoms. Antimicrobial, antitumor, antifungal, and immune-supporting, this fatty acid is not found in many natural sources. Coconut oil is among the highest, along with human breast milk and, in small quantities, in butter churned from grass-fed cows. Nutrition writer Dr. Sally Fallon calls this a “conditionally essential fatty acid” because of its highly protective abilities and for having the distinction of not being produced by the liver, as with other saturated fats.

Many of the commercially available MCT oils available have removed the lauric acid as part of the processing, limiting in its healthful properties. When looking into the purchase of MCT oil, check for the inclusion of lauric acid in the final product. Otherwise, pure, organic coconut oil can be used in anything processed MCT oil is used for, plus a few more:  blended into coffee and smoothies, baking, cooking, and as a moisturizer for the face and body.

Whether you go for the bottled MCT oil or use instead the coconut oil in a jar, supplementing your diet with a clean source of these fatty acids will provide many additional benefits. It may even save you money in the long run. And I would call that situation a win-win.

For more on this and other healthy fats, check out Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions.

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