Lately, weight-loss hype seems to have shifted from pills to natural products. Coconut oil, widely touted as the ‘secret’ to effortless fat loss, represents the newest craze. But just how useful is coconut oil for fat loss?
Unlike pills, coconut oil offers real nutrition and therefore has the potential to help your metabolism operate in a healthier way, thereby assisting with weight loss. But whether you can actually lose fat faster by adding coconut oil to your diet depends entirely on whether or not you are already getting equivalent nutrients from other foods.
For the duration of my ten years in Hawaii, I think I only managed to consume the equivalent of a coconut or two. I DO love the rich, nutty-sweet flavor of coconut in all its forms (fresh, toasted, etc.). But since my personal chef, Luke, was more into using butter and olive oil, coconuts just didn’t make their way into many of our meals. If you’ve read Deep Nutrition, you already know that while in Hawaii I shed about 20 lbs without even trying and that this minor miracle was accomplished not with coconut oil but rather by balancing my diet.
Does coconut oil have special fatty acids that help with weight loss?
The key nutrient relatively unique to coconut oil is the medium chain fatty acids. Since we ate lots of other tropical fruits and nuts (macadamia, avocado), and butter from pastured cows, we had other sources of medium chain fatty acids. It’s not that these fatty acids will help with weight loss per se; they can help other aspects of health and thereby indirectly improve your weight. For example, medium chain fatty acids do have the ability to help kill viruses that hide behind a coating of fatty acids, specifically flu, hepatitis, and herpes-viruses. They also bind to albumen and other blood proteins that bind thyroid hormone and consuming more of them may help to optimize your thyroid hormone function by kicking the hormones off these carrier proteins and releasing them back into solution.
So if you don’t like coconut, you can seek these alternative sources of medium chain fatty acids and take heart in the fact that anyone can get healthy and lose weight (or more correctly, lose fat) by cutting carbs, avoiding MegaTrans fats, and getting all four of the Four Pillars into their diets, which essentially guarantees a balanced, nutrient rich, genetically optimal diet. No coconuts needed.
Are coconuts really good for you?
As with ANY food, the health-giving properties of coconut depend ENTIRELY on source and tradition.
Source refers to the plot of land that the coconut came from. Was it polluted? Was the soil depleted? Was the tree’s health fortified or destabilized by a climate in balance or in stress?
In general, the land coconut groves sit on tends to be relatively fit because coconuts grow in sand, the trees live for over 100 years, and coconut crops typically do not need artificial fertilizer inputs. These hardy trees are also fairly resistant to insect infestation and tend to produce well even without pesticide applications. Still, I would look for organic on the label. Though its no guarantee of purity, at least its a good start.
Tradition refers to the sum total of all human-activity that transported the coconut from the tree to your table. How was it harvested? Was it heated or pasteurized? Were chemical preservatives added? How long did it sit?
In general, the harvesting and handling of coconuts remains relatively non-industrialized because coconut oil resists deterioration through enzymatic decay (which could create rancid flavors), and so coconut milk and cream do not require the bleaching and harsh refining involved in the processing of vegetable oil. Additionally, because coconut oil it mostly composed of saturated fatty acids that resist heat-induced deterioration, coconut oil does not contain harmful MegaTrans fats.
My personal affinity for coconuts derives mainly from the simple fact that they’re yummy, healthy, and they store well, so you can make a FAST super-healthy breakfast smoothie (see above) using inexpensive ingredients that keep for a while.
Confused by a cornucopia of coconut creams? Got coconut-milk conundrums?
Here’s a fantastic video from my friends at Rouxbe.com about buying coconut milk products.