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Coconut Oil and Saturated Fats: What You Need to Know

Coconut oil in a coconut shell

As we enter a new year, we tend to pay closer attention to the quality of our health and wellness, in hopes that this will be the year we make improvements in ourselves. For many, this means ensuring that the foods included in our diet have positive effects on our wellbeing. A quick internet search on how to improve your diet will often tell consumers to limit their intake of saturated fat. But what is saturated fat?

Saturated fats are types of fatty acid chains that are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Because of this correlation, health experts may encourage a limited intake of saturated fats, therefore saturated fats have acquired a negative reputation. More in-depth research, however, has brought to light that more than one type of saturated fat exists. Some saturated fats are actually correlated to multiple positive impacts on health, and it may be so that not all saturated fats should be considered ‘bad’ anymore.

Types of Saturated Fat

Despite popular assumption, there is not just one type of saturated fat. There are three sub-groups of saturated fatty acids: long-chain, medium-chain, and short chain. Let’s focus on two of the groups: long-chain and medium-chain. Because each sub-group is considered a saturated fat, they are referred to as one group when discussed in the context of health and wellness. The three groups, however, are distinctly different and it is important to understand the differences between them before cutting any type of fat out of one’s diet.

Long-Chain Fatty Acids

Often found in fats from animals, for example in beef, long-chain fatty acids are the type of saturated fat that have acquired the negative connotations often associated with saturated fats in general. There is research linking this type of saturated fat to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Long-chain fatty acids have longer absorption and digestion time than medium-chain fatty acids.

Medium-Chain Fatty Acids

Medium-chain fatty acids, also referred to as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), are the type of saturated fat that can be found in coconut oil. Medium-chain fatty acids are metabolized faster than long-chain fatty acids and are associated with health benefits. According to a study published by the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease (JCDD), when compared to longer chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids have been associated with several health benefits, including improvements in cognitive function and a more favorable lipid profile, meaning you are at less risk of heart disease.

Coconut Oil, a Saturated Fat, is Linked to Health Benefits

While the fat that is in coconut milk, coconut cream, and coconut oil is made up of saturated fats, it is important to recognize that fats from coconut is made up of primarily medium-chain fatty acids. This means that coconut fat does not contain the same fatty acid profile as saturated fats with long-chain fatty acids. According to the JCDD, coconut oil has been shown to demonstrate antifungal and antimicrobial properties. The fat provided by coconuts can have a positive effect on one’s diet.

The Future of Saturated Fats

Given that different sub-groups of saturated fats have different effects on health, all saturated fats should not be categorized together. This has resulted in the false linking of foods with a high content of medium-chain fatty acid, such as coconut fat, with the negative health effects that long-chain fatty acids are linked with. Moving forward, it is important to take into consideration the different types of saturated fats and to not immediately rule out saturated fats completely when deciding what should and should not be included in one’s diet. Medium chain fatty-acids such as coconut oil may be just what you need to improve your diet and accomplish your new year’s resolution of bettering your health and wellness.

For more information on saturated fat and coconut fat, see this study published by the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease.


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