Dietary fats have been feared due to decades of misinformation, and many people have opted for a low fat diet model in the quest for optimal health and weight management. Sadly, this strategy really misses the mark, and actually has had detrimental effects on public health. Fortunately though, the myth that fat is bad is being slowly but surely debunked, and more and more health conscious individuals are starting to understand the difference between good fats, bad fats, and the overall importance of fat in the diet.

Why are good fats so important?

Fats are not only good, but also actually quite necessary for many reasons. Our brains are 60% fat, and cannot function without consuming healthy fats. Fats also protect our vital organs and cells, they regulate our body temperature, provide satiety, carry fat soluble vitamins and nutrients, not to mention are great, concentrated sources of energy, among other things. Simply put, we need fats to survive and thrive, and if we are not getting enough healthy fat in our diets, we are missing critical nutrients. Furthermore, if we opt for a fat-free diet model, we also are probably hungry all of the time, and therefore reaching for refined carbohydrates and sugar to satisfy our hunger. Fat is the slowest burning of all the macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs in this order), and keeps us feeling full for the longest period of time.

Which fats are good?

Here is a list of the best fats to include, and then we’ll get more specifically into coconut oil.

  • Coconut Oil (unrefined)
  • Butter (grass-fed, if possible)
  • Ghee
  • Grass-fed meat
  • Organic whole milk (raw if possible)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sesame and nut oils
  • Nuts and seeds (raw if possible)
  • Avocado
  • Flax Oil

Remember, the best oils/fats specifically for cooking include more stable options that will not oxidize when exposed to heat, such as coconut oil, butter and ghee.

The benefits of coconut oil

Coconut oil can definitely be considered a superfood, as it provides a unique combination of health promoting fatty acids, which offer a long list of varied health benefits. Some of those benefits include improved cognitive function, weight loss support, and powerful antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat, which is the primary type of fat that is (wrongly) feared by mainstream nutrition. Many studies have shown that saturated fats are absolutely not to blame for what was once thought: high cholesterol, triglycerides and heart disease. Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are metabolized differently than the saturated fats found in foods like red meat. MCTs go directly to the liver where they are used as a quick source of energy. They are turned in to ketone bodies, which actually have been studied support cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.

Many cultures around the world have used coconut oil as their primary cooking oil for centuries, and have thrived. For example, the Tokelauan population of the South Pacific have been studied extensively, as they consume more than 60% of their daily calories from coconuts, and are in excellent health. While this population eats the highest percentage of their calories from saturated fats compared to other groups studied, they are certainly not the only example of a culture who thrives on a high saturated fat diet (coconut topping the list).

Helps you lose weight

The MCTs in coconut oil work to increase energy expenditure much more-so than the same amount of calories consumed from other sources of fat (which also have important health benefits, but do not specifically support fat loss). In fact, one study found that 15-30 grams of medium chain triglycerides per day can burn an extra 120 calories.

Powerful antibacterial agent

Lauric acid makes up almost 50% of coconut oils fatty acid content, and is a potent, natural killer of harmful pathogens such as viruses, fungi and bacteria. It can help fight candida infections (yeast overgrowth), and can be used as a topical to support wound healing and fight infections.

Increases satiety (feeling of fullness)

As with most good fats, coconut oil works to fill you up and reduce your hunger, therefore controlling cravings and managing weight. Ketone bodies have an appetite-suppressing effect, so adding coconut oil to your meals or smoothies just might be the key to successfully consuming fewer daily calories.

Improves cholesterol levels

The type of saturated fats found in coconut oil actually work to raise HDL (good) cholesterol, and rat studies suggest that they might also work to reduce triglycerides. This benefit can help to prevent heart disease in the long term.

Moisturizes your skin 

Coconut oil can also be an excellent moisturizer for both hair and skin (although those with acne should avoid it as a topical). Fascinatingly, coconut oil blocks about 20% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, so can help protect from sun damage.

How to incorporate coconut oil into your daily diet

First and foremost, coconut oil is a great choice for cooking, whether sauteing, roasting, or any method that requires higher heat. Coconut oil is a stable fat that will not oxidize (meaning it will not go rancid, which can create harmful free radicals in the body) when heated. Compared to less stable vegetable oils like olive or flax, which should be used as salads, dips, or only heated on low temperatures (flax should actually not be heated at all).

For blood sugar support and weight management, taking one tablespoon of coconut oil in a glass of hot tea, 20-30 minutes before a meal can significantly help with consuming fewer calories and avoiding common blood sugar spikes and dips.

Try adding a tablespoon or two of coconut oil to your favorite smoothie, or use it as a spread.

If the taste bothers you, experiment with different brands, as some have stronger tastes than others. And always look for unrefined, virgin coconut oil whenever possible.

Rachel Fiske, NC, CPT-NASM Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California, and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel works with clients individually via skype, focusing on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes. Consultations include diet journal analysis, individualized menu planning, and herbal/supplementation protocols.