Coconut Oil: A Low-Calorie Fat
By Bruce Fife, N.D.
©2001 Reprinted with permission of the author and publisher.
From the book: “The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil.”
Not all Fats are Alike
We have a dilemma here. Fat is, to put it bluntly, fattening. The more fat we eat, the more calories we consume, and the harder it is to lose weight. But if we cut down on fats, we also cut out the essential fatty acids and the fat-soluble vitamins.
What if…what if there was a fat that had fewer calories than other fats and contributed no more to weight gain than protein or carbohydrate, and actually promoted better health, would you be interested? Sounds like a pipe dream doesn’t it? It’s not. There actually is a fat that can do this. That fat is found in coconut oil.
Replacing the fats you now eat with coconut oil may be the wisest decision you can make to lose excess body fat. We often think that the less fat we eat, the better. However, you don’t necessarily need to reduce your fat intake, you simply need to choose a fat that is better for you, one that doesn’t contribute to weight gain. You can lose unwanted body fat by eating more saturated fat (in the form of coconut oil) and less polyunsaturated fat (processed vegetable oils).
One of the remarkable things about coconut oil is that it can help you lose weight. Yes, there is a dietary fat that can actually help you take off unwanted pounds. Coconut oil can quite literally be called a low-fat fat.
All fats, whether they be saturated or unsaturated, from a cow or from corn, contain the same number of calories. The MCFA (medium chain fatty acids) in coconut oil, however, are different. They contain a little less. Because of the small size of the fatty acids that make up coconut oil, they actually yield fewer calories than other fats. MCT oil, which is derived from coconut oil and consists of 75 percent caprylic acid (C:8) and 25 percent capric acid (C:10), has an effective energy value of only 6.8 calories per gram. (1) This is much less than the 9 calories per gram supplied by other fats. Coconut oil has at least 2.56 percent fewer calories per gram of fat than long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). (2) This means that by using coconut oil in place of other oils your calorie intake is less.
This small reduction in calories is only part of the picture. The amount of calories coconut oil contributes is in effect closer to that of carbohydrate because it is digested and processed differently than other fats. The digestive and metabolic effects are discussed below.
Produces Energy, Not Fat
When people go on diets to lose weight, the foods that are restricted most are those which contain the most fat. Why is fat singled out? We know it is high in calories, but there is also another reason. Because of the way it is digested and utilized in our bodies, it contributes the most to body fat. The fat we eat is the fat we wear – literally.
When we eat fat, the fat is broken down into individual fatty acids and repackaged into small bundles of fat and protein called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are sent into the bloodstream where the fatty acids are deposited directly into our fat cells. Other nutrients such as carbohydrate and protein are broken down and used immediately for energy or tissue building. Only when we eat too much is the excess carbohydrate and protein converted into fat. As long as we eat enough to satisfy energy needs, fat in our food always ends up as fat in our cells. Only between meals when physical activity outpaces energy reserves is fat removed from storage and burned for fuel.
MCFA, however, are digested and utilized differently. They are not packaged into lipoproteins and do not circulate in the bloodstream like other fats, but are sent directly to the liver where they are immediately converted into energy – just like a carbohydrate. So when you eat coconut oil, the body uses it immediately to make energy rather than store it as body fat. As a consequence, you can eat much more coconut oil than you can other oils before the excess is converted into fat. It has been well documented in numerous studies using both animals and humans that replacing LCFA with MCFA results in a decrease in body weight gain and a reduction in fat deposition. (3-9)
These studies have provided the scientific verification that replacing traditional sources of dietary fat, which are composed primarily of LCFA, with MCFA, yields meals having a lower effective calorie content. MCFA can be a useful tool in the controlling of weight gain and fat deposition. The simplest and best way to replace LCFA with MCFA is to use coconut oil in the preparation of your food.
A Metabolic Marvel
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take a pill that would shift our metabolic rate into a higher gear? In a sense that is what happens every time we eat. Food affects our BMR. When we eat, many of our body’s cells increase their activities to facilitate digestion and assimilation. This stimulation of cellular activity known as diet-induced thermogenesis, uses about 10 percent of the total food energy taken in. Perhaps you have noticed, particularly on cool days, that you feel warmer after eating a meal. Your body’s engines are running at a slightly higher rate, so more heat is produced. Different types of foods produce different thermogenic effects. Protein-rich foods such as meat increase thermogenesis and have a stimulatory or energizing effect on the body. (*This is true as long as you don’t overeat. Overeating puts tremendous strain on the digestive system which can drain your energy and make you feel tired. This is why we often feel sleepy after a big meal.) Protein has a much greater thermogenic effect than either carbohydrate or fat. This is why when people suddenly cut down on meat consumption or become vegetarians they often complain of a lack of energy. This is also one of the reasons high protein diets promote weight loss – the increase in metabolism burns off more calories.
One food that can rev up your metabolism even more than protein is coconut oil. MCFA shift the body’s metabolism into a higher gear, so to speak, so that you burn more calories. This happens every time you eat MCFA. Because MCFA increase the metabolic rate, they are dietary fats that can actually promote weight loss! A dietary fat that takes off weight rather than putting it on is a strange concept indeed, but that is exactly what happens, so long as calories in excess of the body’s needs are not consumed. MCFA are easily absorbed and rapidly burned and used as energy for metabolism, thus increasing metabolic activity and even burning LCFA. (10) So not only are medium-chain fatty acids burned for energy production, but they encourage the burning of long-chain fatty acids as well.
Dr. Julian Whitaker, a well-known authority on nutrition and health, makes this analogy between the long-chain triglycerides (LCT) and medium chain triglycerides (MCT): “LCTs are like heavy wet logs that you put on a small campfire. Keep adding the logs, and soon you have more logs than fire. MCTs are like rolled up newspaper soaked in gasoline. They not only burn brightly, but will burn up the wet logs as well.” (11)
Research supports Dr. Whitaker’s view. In one study, the thermogenic (fat-burning) effect of a high-calorie diet containing 40 percent fat as MCFA was compared to one containing 40 percent fat as LCFA. The thermogenic effect of the MCFA was almost twice as high as the LCFA: 120 calories versus 66 calories. The researchers concluded that the excess energy provided by fats in the form of MCFA would not be efficiently stored as fat, but rather would be burned. A follow-up study demonstrated that MCFA given over a six-day period can increase diet-induced thermogenesis by 50 percent. (12)
In another study, researchers compared single meals of 400 calories composed entirely of MCFA and of LCFA. (13) The thermogenic effect of MCFA over six hours was three times greater than that of LCFA. Researchers concluded that substituting MCFA for LCFA would produce weight loss as long as calorie level remained the same.
Coconut oil contains the most concentrated natural source of MCFA available. Substituting coconut oil for other vegetable oils in your diet will help promote weight loss. The use of refined vegetable oil actually promotes weight gain, not just from its calorie content, but because of its harmful effects on the thyroid – the gland that controls metabolism. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils depress thyroid activity, thus lowering metabolic rate – just the opposite of coconut oil. Eating polyunsaturated oils, like soybean oil, will contribute more to weight gain than any other fat known, even more than beef tallow and lard. According to Ray Peat, Ph.D., an endocrinologist who specializes in the study of hormones, unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulation, and the response of tissues to the hormone. When thyroid hormones are deficient, metabolism becomes depressed. (14) Polyunsaturated oils are, in essence, high-fat fats which encourage weight gain more than any other fats. If you wanted to lose weight, you would be better off eating lard, because lard doesn’t interfere with thyroid function.
Farmers are always looking for ways to fatten their livestock because bigger animals bring bigger profits. Fats and oils are used as additive in animal feed to quickly pack on weight in preparing them for market. Saturated fat seems like a good choice to fatten up livestock so pig farmers tired to feed coconut products to their animals for this purpose, but when it was added to the animal feed, the pigs lost weight! (15) Farmers found that the high polyunsaturated oil content of corn and soybeans quickly did what the coconut oil couldn’t. Animals fed corn and soybeans packed on pounds quickly and easily. The reason these oils worked so well is that their oils suppressed thyroid function, decreasing the animal’s metabolic rate. Soybeans are particularly bad because of the goitrogens (anti-thyroid chemicals) they contain. (16-17) They could eat less food and gain more weight! Many people are in a similar situation. Every time we eat polyunsaturated oils, our thyroid gland is assaulted and loses its ability to function normally. Weight gain is one of the consequences.
Up until now most people have been afraid of using coconut oil because of the propaganda war waged by the soybean industry. People were led to believe that coconut oil was both unhealthy and fattening, neither of which are true. The fats in coconut oil, for the most part, do not become fatty issues on our bodies. They produce energy. This is one of the reasons why food manufacturers put coconut oil or MCFA in sports drinks and energy bards. It is interesting to note that soybean oil does just the opposite. It promotes weight gain and fat deposition. We use more soybean and hydrogenated oils than ever before. Over the past couple of decades, as soybean oil has replaced tropical oils in our foods, the problem of obesity has mushroomed. Both adults and kids are much fatter than they used to be. It appears that the soybean industry’s war on coconut oil has contributed to our expanding weight problem.
If you want to lose unwanted weight, the best thing you can do is to avoid those oils that make you fat and start using coconut oil – the world’s only natural low-fat fat.
The Coconut Diet
According to the Mayo Clinic, 95 percent of those people who go on weight loss diets regain all their weight back within five years. Many regain more weight than they had before. The diets not only don’t work but can make matters worse. In order for a diet to work it needs to be permanent. This cannot be done with a weight-reducing diet. These types of diets are looked on as temporary restrictions in food, and as soon as the weight is lost we go back to eating the way we did before, the way that made us fat in the first place. You never stay slim by eating the way you used to. In order to lose weight permanently you must make a permanent change. This, however, is undesirable for most people. Who in their right mind would want to remain on a weight-loss diet forever? These diets are just too restrictive and in many cases unhealthy.
But what if I told you there was a diet that you would like, that you could stay on permanently and still enjoy most of your favorite foods without worrying about counting calories or weighing food? For lack of any better name I call it “The Coconut Diet.” I call it this because it is based around coconut and the fact that coconut oil is a reduced-calorie fat which promotes weight loss.
The coconut diet is simple. The most important and most unique feature of this diet is that coconut oil and other coconut products are used as much as possible. Most people are not accustomed to using coconut, so at first they may think this might be difficult, but it’s not. You can add coconut products to your ordinary way of eating without noticing much change.
The most important change is replacing all the refined vegetable oils you currently use in your food preparation with coconut oil. Eliminate all margarine, shortening, and other hydrogenated oils from your diet. Olive oil and butter are okay, but use coconut oil whenever possible.
The second thing you should do is use other coconut products as much as possible. Find ways to use fresh and dried coconut. You can find recipes in cookbooks. Coconut milk is a wonderful item that can be used in a wide variety of dishes. It can replace cow’s milk and cream in most any recipe and tastes great. Some of the dishes I make using coconut milk include butterscotch pudding, coconut milk pancakes, clam chowder, chicken almondine, and creamy coconut gravy, to mention just a few. Coconut milk that you buy in the can is not sweetened so it can be used for a wide variety of main dishes or desserts. With delicious meals like these, dieting can be a pleasure, and because there are no calorie restrictions to worry about, it can easily be maintained for life without feeling hungry or deprived.
When combined with a high-fiber diet, using coconut oil and coconut products can have a remarkable effect on your weight and your health. For more detailed information about using coconut products to lose unwanted weight I recommend the book Eat Fat, Look Thin: A Safe and Natural Way to Lose Weight Permanently. This book outlines a dietary program based on coconut and includes numerous delicious recipes.
- Ingle, D.L., et al. 1999. Dietary energy value of medium-chain triglycerides. Jour. of Food Sci. 64(6):960
- Thampan, P.K. 1994. Facts and Fallacies About Coconut Oil. Asian and Pacific Coconut Community. P.1-2
- Baba, N. 1982. Enhanced thermogenesis and diminished deposition of fat in response to overfeeding with diet containing medium-chain triglyceride. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 35:678
- Bach, A.C., et. al. 1989. Clinical and experimental effects of medium chain triglyceride based fat emulsions-a review. Clin. Nutr. 8:223
- Hill, J.O., et. al. 9. Thermogenesis in humans during overfeeding with medium-chain triglycerides. Metabolism 38:641
- Hasihim, S.A. and Tantibhedyangkul, P. 1987. Medium chain triglyceride in early life: effects on growth of adipose tissue. Lipids 22:429
- Geliebter, A. 1980. Overfeeding with a diet containing medium chain triglycerides impedes accumulation of body fat. Clinical Research 28:595A
- Bray, G.A. et al. 1980. Weight gain of rats fed medium-chain triglycerides is less than rats fed long-chain triglycerides. Int. J. Obes. 4:27-32
- Geliebter, A. 1983. Overfeeding with medium-chain triglycerides diet results in diminished deposition of fat. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 37:1-4
- Baba, N. 1982. Enhanced thermogenesis and diminished deposition of fat in response to overfeeding with diet containing medium chain triglyceride. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 35:678-82
- Murray, M.T. 1996. American Journal of Natural Medicine 3(3):7
- Hill, J.O., et. al. Thermogenesis in man during overfeeding with medium chain triglycerides. Metabolism 38:641-8
- Seaton, T.B., et al. 1986. Thermic effect of medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides in man. Am. J. of Clin. Nutr. 44:630
- Peat, R. Ray Peat’s Newsletter 1997 Issue, p.2-3
- Encylcopedia Briticanica Book of the Year, 1946. Cited by Ray Peat, Ray Peat’s Newsletter, 1997 Issue, p.4
- Shepard, T.H. 1960. Soybean goiter. New Eng J. Med. 262:1099
- Divi, R.L. et. al., 1997. Anti-thyroid isoflavones from soybean: isolation, characterization, and mechanisms of action. Biochem. Pharmacol. 54(10):1087