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Fighting Fit or Fighting Fat? by Ben Pratt

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In a rapidly expanding industry where weight management is the most common driving and motivating factor for exercise, it is easy to become buried amongst the vastly conflicting evidence in trying to assist our clients to be successful. In relation to dietary advice an area that is heavily supported by scientific research, but not so much by the popular press, is the inclusion of a sufficient amount of healthy, saturated fat!!

Coconut oil is the most saturated of all fats, with 91% of the fatty acid profile being saturated. It is particularly rich in medium-chain triglycerides; composing as much as 69% of the total fatty acids.1 This exceptionally high content of saturated, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) has interested the scientific community for many years. Research highlighting the health promoting benefits of the medium-chain saturates in coconut oil has been around since the late 1950's.2 Despite this, the main evidence brought to public attention over the last 30 - 40 years has been very much focused on decreasing the saturated fat intake in our diets. There are many reliable and significant contradictions to this theory regardless of its general acceptance. Harvard's Walter Willett M.D. acknowledged that even though "the focus of dietary recommendations is usually a reduction of saturated fat intake, no relation between saturated fat intake and risk of CHD was observed in the most informative prospective study to date."3

One of the most in depth studies on record looking at diet, cholesterol, lifestyle and heart disease was researched over 40 year period in Framingham, Massachusetts. 6000 people were involved in the investigation generating a huge volume of information. The director of the study, William P. Castelli, declared a few years after the study concluded that "In Framingham, Mass, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person's serum cholesterol... we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active."4

Unlike other saturated fats that can be produced by the liver, the mammary gland is the only place in the body that produces MCT's. This makes it an important component of breast milk, nature's perfect food! There are only 3 sources of MCT's in the adult diet; a small amount is found in butterfat, a large amount is present in coconut oil and some is found in palm kernel oil.5 MCT's are also easier on the digestive tract as they do not require the catabolic action of bile and are therefore an excellent fat to introduce when a low fat diet has been followed and fat digestion may be weak.5 There is a very convincing body of evidence about the benefits of coconut oil, particularly as an effective tool for body fat loss!

Research carried out on rats showed that rats fed 45% of calories as MCT's had virtually no body fat deposited compared to those fed long-chain triglycerides (LCT).6 Another rat study demonstrated decreased body fat due to an increase in metabolic rate and thermogenesis (increased heat or energy output) when fed MCT's.7 A study by McGill University in Canada showed that MCT's increased body fat oxidation in women and could be suitable in long term weight control.8 Several scientific studies on men showed that when MCT's were eaten there was an increase in weight loss and body fat oxidation, a boosting of metabolism and increased energy expenditure.9,10,11,12 One study in particular showed that the MCT's in coconut are burned off three times faster than other common long-chain fats.10 When the effects of "heart healthy" olive oil were compared to coconut oil there was greater loss of adipose tissue when the latter was consumed. The authors commented that "MCT's may be considered as agents that aid in the prevention of obesity or potentially stimulate weight loss."13 Even studies that involved both men and women found that MCT's increased weight loss and energy expenditure. One concluded "that MCT's increase energy expenditure, (and) may result in faster satiety and facilitate weight control."14,15

In our effort to beat the bulge we need to stop fighting fats by removing them from our diets. Fats are not all bad; in fact some are exceptionally good for our health. To become lean and fighting fit the evidence for saturated coconut oil is hugely positive. This could become an additional and highly effective secret weapon in our weight management strategy.


  2. Hashim SA, Clancy RE, Hegsted DM, Stare FJ. Effect of mixed fat formula feeding on serum cholesterol level in man. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 7:30-34;1959
  3. Willett W. Editorial: Challenges for public health nutrition in the 1990s. American Journal of Public Health. 80:1295-1298;1990.
  4. Castelli WP. Editorial: Concerning the possibility of a nut... Archives of Internal Medicine 152:1371-2;1992.
  5. Enig M, Fallon S. Eat fat Lose fat. Plume, Penguin Group, 2005
  6. Geliebter A, Torbay N, Bracco EF, Hashim SA, Van Itallie TB. Overfeeding with medium-chain triglyceride diet results in diminished deposition of fat. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 37:1-4, 1983
  7. Baba N, Bracco EF, Hashim SA. Enhanced thermogenesis and diminished deposition of fat in response to overfeeding with diet containing medium-chain triglycerides. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 35:678-682, 1982.
  8. Papamandjaris AA, White MD, Raeini-Sarjaz M, Jones PJ. Endogenous fat oxidation during medium-chain versus long-chain triglyceride feeding in healthy women. The International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders. 24:1158-66, 2000.
  9. St-Onge MP, Jones PJ. Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. The International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders. 27:1565-71, 2003.
  10. DeLany JP, Windhauser MM, Champagne CM, Bray GA. Differential oxidation of individual dietary fatty acids in humans. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 72: 905-911, 2000.
  11. Seaton TB, Welle SL, Warenko MK, Campbell RG. Thermic effect of medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides in man. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 44:630-634, 1986.
  12. Scalfi L, Coltorti A, Contaldo F. Postprandial thermogenesis in lean and obese subjects after meals supplemented with medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 53:1130-1133, 1991.
  13. St-Onge MP, Ross R, Parsons WD, Jones PJ. Medium-chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure and decrease adiposity in overweight men. Obesity Research. 11:395-402, 2003.
  14. Tsuji H, Kasai M, Takeuchi H, Nakamura M, Okazaki M, Kondo K. Dietary medium-chain triacylglycerols suppress accumulation of body fat in double-blind, controlled trial in healthy men and women. Journal of Nutrition. 131:2853-9, 2001.
  15. St-Onge MP, Jones PJ. Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity. Journal of Nutrition. 132:329-32, 2002.

Ben Pratt, © 2007. All rights reserved.

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Great summary!

Great summary, Ben.  Certainly makes one second-guess the media yet again.