The types of fats you eat can impact your health in a big way. Generally speaking, even saturated fat provides benefits because your body requires fat for numerous important purposes. Certain saturated fats in foods such as coconut and coconut oil may contribute to good health, but not enough evidence exists to draw any firm conclusions. Because saturated fat generally has a negative effect on blood cholesterol, you should still consume it in moderation.
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Role of Fat in the Body
Your body uses saturated fat, along with other types of fat, for a variety of important purposes, explains physician William Sears on his site. Fat serves as a source of energy. It also plays a key role in producing the membranes that surround the cells in your body, including the brain. Fat also keeps the skin healthy, cushions the organs and aids in the production of hormones, the chemical messengers involved in every process in the body. The Harvard School of Public Health notes that the body makes all the saturated fat it requires and the excess you get in the diet, particularly from animal foods, is problematic because high amounts lead to elevated levels of ‘’’bad’’ cholesterol.
Coconut Oil and Heart Disease
Coconut oil contains a different type of saturated fat than that found in animal products. These differences may make this type of fat good for you, rather than something you should avoid. Physician Joseph Mercola, in a piece for the Huffington Post, reports that research into the diet and incidents of heart disease in individuals of the South Pacific Islands has uncovered very low rates of heart disease, even though some get as much as 60 percent of their total calories from saturated fat-rich coconut.
An older study, published in the October 1997 issue of ‘’Tropical Doctor,’’ noted an increased incidence of coronary heart disease in a particular area of India. The researchers theorized the high consumption of saturated fat from coconut oil was likely responsible. Their study consisted of comparing intake of coconut and coconut oil in patient with heart disease and healthy individuals. Their findings suggest coconut oil consumption was similar between the two groups, suggesting that some other undiscovered factor is responsible for the increased incidence of the disease.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides and Weight Loss
The type of saturated fat found in coconut oil is called medium-chain triglycerides. Nutritionist Jonny Bowden explains that the body uses this type of fat primarily as a source of immediate energy, similar to carbohydrates, but without the spike in insulin believed to contribute to weight gain.
Limited research suggests that adding this type of fat to your diet may aid in weight loss. Two studies by the same team of Canadian researchers, appearing in the January 2003 and December 2003 issue of ’’The International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders,’’ tested the effects of adding medium-chain triglycerides in the form of coconut oil versus other types of fat in male and female subjects. The researchers found that the coconut oil appeared to enhance fat oxidation, which would help reduce overall fat storage and increase the amount of calories burned. These effects should not be viewed as a quick fix, but rather a potential long-term dietary change that could promote weight loss and help maintain a healthy weight.
Even if the saturated fat found in coconut oil proves to be a healthier version of the saturated fat found in animal products, fat of all kinds has twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrates. If you decide to include more of these fats in your diet, reduce your intake of other kinds accordingly to prevent consuming too much of this nutrient.