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Volume 38, No. 2

Healthy Coconut Oil

We are told that for a healthy heart we need to avoid saturated fat. Coconut oil is highly saturated. In other words, the carbons in almost all its fatty acid chains are saturated with hydrogen. Quoting from The Coconut Oil Miracle1:

Coconuts have been a staple in the diets of Pacific Islanders for thousands of years. They eat them by the pound every day. Common sense would tell you that, if they were as harmful as we are led to believe, all the islanders should have died off years ago. But until their adoption of modern foods, heart disease and other degenerative conditions were unheard of. Heart disease only appeared in island populations after traditional foods consisting of coconuts and coconut oil [plus fish, etc.] were replaced by modern processed foods and refined vegetable oils.

We have been advised to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated vegetable oils. For manufacturing convenience in processing foods, these unstable, easily oxidized oils are hydrogenated and many "trans fats" are produced and are consequently found in processed foods. These trans fats have misshapen carbon chains-any missing hydrogen atoms are on the unnatural side of the carbon chain: "trans" rather than "cis," which makes the chain straighter and more convenient for the manufacturer but, unfortunately, most deleterious to our health.

Many years ago, NOHA Speaker Mary Enig, PhD, figured out these problems and did a careful analysis of the trans fat content of many processed foods. She was attacked as early as 1979 by representatives of the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers and the Institute for Shortening and Edible Oils, in other words, by the powerful vegetable oil industry. They reacted to her first published paper by cutting out all the funding of the lipids group at the University of Maryland that was studying trans fats. For a fascinating description of all this deception and the manipulation of the public, see EAT FAT, LOSE FAT2 and also see the video tape of Dr Enig's March 1992 NOHA lecture, " Fats, Oils, Cholesterol, and Disease: Separating Fact From Fiction."

Dr. Enig's paper that generated this virulent industry attack was published in the Proceedings of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and used data from the 1977 George McGovern Senate Select Committee report on Nutrition and Human Needs, Dietary Goals for the United States.

The report urged Americans to reduce overall fat intake and to substitute polyunsaturates for saturated fat from animal sources-margarine and corn oil for butter, lard, and tallow. . . . Enig's own analysis of the same USDA data that the McGovern committee cited pointed to very different conclusions: that people eating animal fat actually had less heart disease (as well as less cancer, another concern of the committee) than those who ate vegetable oil.

"In the early 1970s [Dr Fred Kummerow of the University of Illinois] had shown that trans fatty acids caused increased rates of heart disease in pigs. A private endowment allowed him to continue his research, for government funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health refused to give him further grants. . . . Mary's own research, published in her 1984 doctoral dissertation, indicated that trans fats interfered with enzyme systems in the body that made carcinogens harmless and increased enzymes that made carcinogens more toxic." As we see, for close to twenty-five years the public has been deceived and manipulated by industries, promoting soy and canola oils, etc., into thinking that foods containing these hydrogenated (trans fat) oils are great for our health and that we should avoid the traditional fats. Some years ago, I (MF) even heard an intelligent man say, "Oh, I mustn't take salmon, it is a fatty fish." He was completely unaware of the wonderful brain-enhancing and essential fats found in cold-water fatty fish.

Now, at last, we even have a Harvard study on the deleterious effects of trans fats and we are beginning to get labeling of trans fats in processed foods. "Until 2003, manufacturers were not required to list the trans fat content of foods on the label. That year, the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] finalized a requirement that all food labels list trans fat content by January 2006." It is sad to know that, for so many years, the research was out there, but suppressed, on the trans fats and also on the excellent health effects of many traditional fats.

In regard to saturated fats, their metabolism and their health effects depend crucially on the length of their chains of carbon. The many saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are mostly "medium chain," with their fatty acids containing carbon chains of 8 to 12 carbons, whereas most saturated fats that we ingest have longer chains (excellent for energy storage and for extra pounds of fat on our bodies, if we don't exercise sufficiently). Medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) from coconut are quickly metabolized for energy. Thus, they are heat generating and beneficially enhance the action of our thyroid gland. Carbohydrates, similarly metabolized, give a peak in blood sugar—disastrous for diabetics—but the enhanced energy is strictly beneficial when it is derived from the medium chain fatty acids. There is scientific evidence that the medium chain fatty acids, found in non hydrogenated-specifically, virgin, organic coconut and palm oils can help patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

In complete contrast, the metabolism of the longer chain saturated fats involves breaking down the chains into individual fatty acids by the action of the bile from our liver—not so in the case of the medium chain fatty acids, which can be as easily metabolized as carbohydrates and have no need for the bile action required for the digestion of other fats. Also, as a matter of interest for the calorie counters among us—since the molecules in the medium chain fatty acids, contained in coconut oil, are smaller, eating them generates fewer calories than eating the regular long-chain fatty acids—"6.8 calories per gram" rather than the "9 calories per gram supplied by other fats."
The specific fatty acids in virgin, organic coconut oil have many health enhancing actions:

The main MCFA in coconut oil is lauric acid, a proven antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent that is also found in mother's milk. Converted in your body to a substance called monolaurin, it helps you defend against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens and strengthens your immune system, protecting you from a wide range of diseases. Highly protective lauric acid should be called a "conditionally essential fatty acid," because it is made only by the mammary gland and not in the liver like other saturated fats. You can get it from just three dietary sources: in small amounts, butterfat, and in large amounts, coconut oil and palm kernel oil.

Thus, coconut oil can be wonderfully effective against many diseases involving viruses, e.g., AIDS, Herpes simplex, and Leukemia; bacteria, for example, pneumonia and throat infections from Streptococcus and stomach ulcers from Heliobacter pyloris; and fungi, specifically all the problems stemming from the overgrowth of Candida albacans. Interestingly, one of the MCFAs found in coconut oil is caprylic acid (8 carbon saturated chain), which is used as a specific medication against systemic candidiasis.

Our health can be greatly enhanced by the use of virgin, organic coconut oil and other traditional foods, including a good source of the long-chain highly unsaturated fatty acids found in cold-water fish. Dr. Enig recommends searching out a clean as possible source of cod liver oil with its high content of vitamins A and D as well as the essential, long-chain, omega-3 fatty acids, which we have recommended in NOHA for so many years. Dr. Weston A. Price, the dentist, who did so much basic research on the excellent health of many different peoples consuming their traditional diets, found that these peoples consumed and benefited from levels of both vitamins A and D, which were far higher than the levels recommended by our government. Specifically, for optimal nutrition, the authors of EAT FAT, LOSE FAT recommend daily consumption of "10,000 to 12, 000 IU of vitamin A from cod liver oil, which also provides 1,000 to 1,200 IU of vitamin D. "

Dr. Price explained that vitamins A and D are catalysts to mineral absorption and protein utilization. Without them, you cannot absorb minerals, no matter how abundant they may be in your food. In addition, Price discovered another fat-soluble nutrient, a potent catalyst for mineral absorption that he labeled Activator X. It was present in all the diets he studied. Dr. Price identified Activator X in fish liver oils, fish eggs, organ meats, blubber of sea animals, and butterfat from cows eating rapidly growing green grass in the spring and fall. Unfortunately there has been no research on this nutrient since his death in 1948.

Thus, we need to receive these vitamins and many other essential nutrients, including essential oils, which are provided by consuming meat and fish as our ancestors did. For us, we can choose, for example, organic, grass-fed beef plus lots of organic eggs from chickens, who can consume omega-3 nutrients, such as purslane, when they are free to forage in an excellent environment, such as the garden surrounding her ancestral home, which was mentioned by Dr. Artemis Simopoulos in her NOHA lectures, "The Omega Plan," October 1998 and "The Mediterranean Diets," May 2002.

Traditional diets usually included lacto-fermented vegetables and fruits and beverages. These foods provided many beneficial organisms for the guts of our ancesteors. Vegetables, certainly including any beans and many tubers were often cooked to make them more digestible. The loss of enzymes from the heat of cooking could be compensated for by always including the fermented foods with their probiotics.

Both The Coconut Miracle and Eat Fat, Lose Fat are excellent books. In this survey, we have only given an inkling of their content. We do recommend that you read both books and enjoy the fun foods that are described!


By Marjorie Fisher

1Bruce Fife, CN, ND, The Coconut Oil Miracle, Avery, 2004.
2Mary Enig, PhD, and Sally Fallon, EAT FAT, LOSE FAT, Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious Science-Based Coconut Diets, Hudson Street Press, 2005.



Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXXI, No. 2, Spring 2006

*The American Nutrition Association was formerly known as the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association [NOHA].

For informational purposes only - not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor an endorsement by the American Nutrition Association®. Use permitted for non-profit and non-commercial uses or by healthcare professionals in their practice, with attribution to Other use only with written ANA℠ permission. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ANA℠. Works by a listed author subject to copyrights as marked. © 2010 ANA℠