Coconut oil seems to be all the rage these days. Google “coconut oil” and you’ll see tons of sites promoting an outrageous number of benefits of coconut oil. What’s with all this hype? The main reason that so many people are interested in coconut oil is because it’s mostly made up of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) called lauric acid. Other fat sources tend to be made up mostly of Long Chain Triglycerides.
Of course, this brings up the next question: What’s so special about MCT? What makes MCT so special is that they are oxidized rapidly for energy. MCT are digested and have a faster transit time than carbohydrates and other fats. It’s this unique property that makes many people believe that MCT consumption could potentially benefit athletic performance in endurance events. The idea is that because MCT are oxidized so quickly for energy, they provide an alternative energy source during exercise and could spare muscle glycogen.
The reasoning behind this idea makes sense, however, most of the research has not confirmed this benefit. Most research has found no increase in the use of MCT for energy during exercise and as a result, muscle glycogen was not spared. A 2010 meta-analysis of over 50 research papers published in the Journal of Food Science and Nutrition found that MCT were not beneficial for exercise performance. Additionally, the consumption of MCT can cause GI distress during exercise. I think we can all say from personal experience that it’s pretty hard to exercise hard with “GI distress.” In conclusion, research does not support the idea that MCT consumption can be used to enhance performance.
Coconut oil won’t make you any faster, but does it have any health benefits? There has been recent interest in the use of coconut oil for weight loss. Because of its previously mentioned fast metabolism and transit time, it could increase energy expenditure and promote early feelings of fullness, resulting in reduced food intake. The meta- analysis that I mentioned above did find that daily small doses of MCT (2 tbsp./day) had a positive effect on negative energy balance. However, before you go topping all your foods with coconut oil, there has NOT been any research showing significant results to prove coconut oil’s role in promoting weight loss. At this time, there is insufficient evidence to support the idea that coconut oil consumption causes weight loss. Furthermore, coconut oil is a fat and is very high in calories. Just 1 tbsp. provides about 117 calories.
Olive oil and canola oil are still your best choice for oils in terms of health benefits. Both contain a high concentration of the heart healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats. Coconut oil is very high in saturated fats that, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs (checkout my blog on butter), can increase bad cholesterol levels if consumed in high amounts. If you are using coconut oil, use it in small quantities (1-2 tbsp.). You may also want to buy virigin coconut oil instead of regular coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil contains polyphenols, which are associated with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In conclusion, despite all the hype surrounding coconut oil, gels and other rich carbohydrate sources are still the best choice for fuelling exercise. If you are using coconut oil for cooking, use it sparingly and enjoy its unique taste!
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