I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, gathering my thoughts slowly because I know I'm going to rub some people the wrong way with this one, but I've just got to say it.
Coconut oil is not a health food.
Now, first, before I continue. If you are of Asian/Pacific Islander decent then skip this post. Coconut oil is your traditional food, it's healthy for you, please don't listen to a word I'm saying.
Now, Europeans, Native Americans, Latinos, etc. come with me and I'll tell you a tale.
Coconut products are the new darling of the natural foods movement. Relied upon heavily because of their versatility, low carbohydrate content and yummy taste.
You can make coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flour, dried coconut, etc. With these products you can make low carb, paleo diet, "healthy" cakes, muffins, candy, snacks, cereal, etc. They really work so well, and that's a big part of the problem...
...coconut is WAY overused right now by health conscience people.
Now am I going to tell you to never eat anymore coconut ever? No way, of course not. This is a cautionary tale about the OVERUSE of coconut products, in particular coconut oil. Go ahead and eat it every now and again but don't sit down with huge buckets of it and don't use it as your primary oil source.
That having been said, it's not all bad.
Coconut oil does have a lot of healthy things going for it.
- It's rich in natural, nourishing, saturated fat.
- Indigenous populations have thrived on diets high in coconut for thousands of years. Showing no signs of diseases we see in the Western world.
- The Lauric acid in coconut oil kills bacteria, fungus, viruses and staff infections.
- It's very filling and can help you loose weight.
- It can improve cholesterol levels
- It's great for your skin
- It's been shown to boost brain performance in people with Alzheimer's disease
So, you're probably thinking, wow! This stuff is amazing! I don't get this post. What are you trying to say?
Stay with me now. Let's take a quick review of this information.
First, yes, saturated fat, for the most part, IS good for you. It is an essential body building food that your body must have in order to function properly. You need it for your hormones, nerves and brain function.
HOWEVER, all saturated fats are not created equal. Saturated fat isn't a compound, it is a class of compounds. In different parts of the world traditional people have consumed a high percentage of their diet in saturated fat BUT that doesn't mean coconut oil! ONLY pacific islanders and some Asians had access to coconuts.
The Inuit people consumed saturated fat as seal blubber, the Irish people fish livers, the Swiss loved their grass fed butter, etc.
We all know the outside of our bodies adapted long ago to our environment. People in Europe had lighter skin, eyes and hair because they had less sunlight. People in Africa developed darker skin, eyes and hair to protect them from an over abundance of sun in their area and Asian people retained the fetal skin above their eyes because of high winds.
These are but a few outward distinctions that humans developed due to their environmental conditions. The inside of our bodies is much the same. We can't see it but it's there. Our bodies are adapted to eat the foods specific to the region of our ancestors much in the same way our skin color adapted to the sun's availability.
Okay so, how do we digest fat?
When fat hits our mouth is chewed and swallowed it's only just begun it's journey through our body. It travels first tot he stomach where our body must release a set of specific enzymes that produce stomach acid in order to break the fat down into smaller pieces.
The liver then produces bile meant to further break down this fat. The bile is sent to the gallbladder and when the gallbladder hears from the body that it's time to break down the fat it squirts the bile into the intestines. The bile breaks the fat down into a watery substance that is then further broken down by the pancreas and intestines.
This help from the pancreas and intestines causes the fat to break down into fatty acids and cholesterol. These molecules move into mucosal cells in the intestines where they are reassembled into large fat molecules and then circulated in the blood. They can be used for fuel, body repair or
OK, whew! Are you still with me? Hope that wasn't to long winded.
But do you see where I'm going here? There are soooo many parts of our bodies involved in the process of eating fats!
Enzymes, stomach acid, liver, bile, gallbladder, intestines, pancreas, mucosal cells, and our blood!
Now, if our ancestors came from a part of the world where coconuts, and nothing even remotely like them, as EVER grown how would all our enzymes, stomach acid, liver, bile, gallbladder, intestines, pancreas, mucosal cells and blood be adapted to break down the VERY unique and specific fat that is coconut oil?
My thought is, they wouldn't be!
Let's look at this another way.
Traditional diets were low in all forms of calories. They didn't have a lot of fruits, veggies, lean meats or fats. They ate what they could. In this context getting 30% of your daily calories from fat is a terrific idea (and still is!). The other 2/3 of your diet should be veggies, in season fruits and a teeny bit of lean meat (and soaked, sprouted or fermented grains where traditional).
That is how most indigenous peoples eat. If you're getting more calories than traditional folks (and most Westerns are!), let's say 1,200-1,500 per day that would mean consuming about 17 grams of saturated fat daily. Just one tablespoon of coconut oil contains about 12 grams of saturated fat. Without eating any other sources of saturated fat you're almost done for your saturated fat for the day with one tablespoon!
If you look online for Paleo or "Traditional" Food recipes you will see how heavily they rely upon coconut oil. Again, it's versatility and taste make it ideal to create "modern" foods such as cookies, cakes, brownies, cheesecake, etc. using "traditional" ingredients but if you're not descendant from people who traditionally ate coconut oil then it's not healthy to consume 3,4, or 5 tablespoons of coconut oil in one dish!
My personal struggle with coconut oil came in the form of an aching gallbladder. For six months I struggled with an undefined pain in my upper right abdomen. It didn't react like a typical gallbladder attack yet, after ruling out nearly everything else, my gallbladder was the only logical thing malfunctioning.
Not only was my gallbladder malfunctioning but it was starting to send other things out of whack. With each attack my abdomen muscles became over burdened. They would stretch and swell becoming tender under the constant strain.
Even my ribs were bruising and hurting!
I kept pressing on with a traditional diet sure that real foods would cure my pain. After keeping careful track of what I was eating I was super surprised to see that coconut oil was causing me a lot of pain. I switched to olive oil, goat butter and cod liver oil and saw immediate results!
My inflammation went down and my gallbladder started to recover. Day by day my condition has gotten better and better.
I did need a real foods diet, it just needed to be the real foods I was designed to eat!
My problem with coconut oil didn't appear over night. I was on a high coconut oil diet for a few years. A few months before the problem got out of control I had switched my family to entirely coconut oil as our only oil source after moving closer to a Costco where I could get the oil for a great price. I did this because I thought I was helping my family be healthier!
So that's my take on coconut oil. I don't think it's the worse thing you could eat, certainly, any grain based oil will be worse for you by leaps and bounds, but I don't think it should be consumed often. It should be a rare treat.
Instead of coconut oil I recommend...
- Animal fat from grass fed animals
- Butter from grass fed cows
- Fresh flax oil
- Virgin, cold pressed, organic, olive oil
- Organic grape seed oil