Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fats: Friend, Not Foe

In years gone by, the coconut has waxed and waned in the eyes of the public. Rumors of saturated fat being the "lethal" ingredient to all that ails us colored our view of this nutritional powerhouse. We were lectured by the food industry to stay away from this innocent culprit. What drove such vehemence against this life-saving food, and why do we still consume it with fear in the backs of our minds?

If we look at cultures whose primary fats are saturated, versus the consumption of trans-fats (which America is the biggest consumer of in the world), we will find very little heart disease, obesity, and cancer in general populace studies (read: "Nutrition & Physical Degeneration," Weston A. Price). Americans revel in single-handed "food blame": we're overweight because of... (insert word here: stress, sugar, fat, etc.). In truth, the public is pining for more sound, independently conducted studies, those which are not funded by a vested party.

Coconut oil is one of the most powerful nutrient-dense allies for the body. It is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral. It is used internally, and for topical reasons, such as rashes, burns, etc. It is one of the easiest fats for the liver to process, and is typically thought of as a "satiation bullet." What this means is that when you include coconut oil in your diet, you will feel fuller, faster.

You may see on the internet, hear on "Oprah," and read in popular women's magazines about the "thermogenic effect" (ability to speed up metabolism) of coconut oil. This statement is accurate. It nourishes the thyroid, from a Chinese medicine perspective, thereby taking care of this vital endocrine gland which helps normalize weight.

There are two things which "activate" CCK (cholecystikinin) in the gut, the "satiation hormone": fat and fiber. If you're deficient, or low, in one of these two areas, your body's metabolism is sure to slow down. You give the opportunity for the body to feel full often, by feeding it healthy fats and high fiber foods (throw some good, high-quality protein in there), your body will be constantly re-reminded that it has no worry of starvation. The effect? A healthy, metabolism, which functions at optimal peak condition.

One of the biggest reasons for type 2 diabetes in this country is over-eating. Other countries call this disease, "the rich man's disease," as it typically is western industrialized nations that eat the portions that we do. Why are we not satisfied with the portion-size served to the French, Italians, Indians, or Thai? Yes, this is a complex problem, which has many issues as contributing to the problem. One is that we don't take time to enjoy the pleasure of our food. We don't allow CCK to kick in before we stop eating (statistically, this takes 20-30 mins.) Having a healthy amount of good fats in the diet, combined with fiber-filled food, will be the winning combination to create a sense of satiation early on within the meal.

By including such fats as coconut oil in the meal, you will notice your portion sizes decreasing without you even trying to do this. You will feel satisfied, and not hungry.

Coconut oil is one of the few oils that is heat-stable. What this means is that it may be used for high-heat baking, sauteeing, cooking, frying, etc., without losing its therapeutic or medicinal components. Olive oil is NOT this way. It should not be thought of as a cooking oil. In European countries, butter is used for high-heat baking and cooking. Olive oil is used for salads, and bread-dipping. Omega-3 oils such as olive oil, flax seed oil, borage oil, and cod liver oil should all be used for condiments only, and should be refrigerated at all times. If you purchase flax seed oil (or any other omega 3 oil) in capsules from your local health food store, and they're not refrigerated, you're not getting your money's worth. Only purchase these oils refrigerated. Once open, refrigerate them immediately. They are medicinally worthless not refrigerated.

(notice the color of the olive oil: dark green, not white or "greyish", this is what you're looking for in high-quality olive oil)

When I managed supplement departments around the country, during my undergrad. in college, this was the first thing I would change: out with all the un-refrigerated oils, put all cod liver oil, flax seed oil, etc. in the refrigerator. Patients say to me, "Almine, I don't notice any difference from the flax seed oil capsules I take daily." I ask them if they bought them on the store shelf. 99% of the time the answer is "yes." No wonder. We'd like to think that the "nice" people at the supplement companies have our backs in us wanting to feel a difference from their products, but the reality is, that as supplements, organics, etc. become more "mainstream" large agri-business companies are buying them up at a rapid rate. For instance, "Coca-Cola" recently bought the organic label "Cascadian Farm." What does this mean? Quality control goes down. When people don't feel a difference from their supplements, they typically keep buying more of the same supplement, because "I'm sure I'm just not taking enough." Its a vicious cycle.

I ask my patients to bring in the supplements that they're on. You would be shocked that I have several patients per week who will dump out 1-2 grocery bags of bottles on my desk. I ask them if they feel a difference from taking all of these supplements. Generally, the answer is "No." I'm assuming they aren't feeling what they want to be feeling, or they wouldn't be in my office.

(the best fermented, high-vitamin cod liver oil around. "Blue Ice" fermented cod liver oil can be purchased from: www.drrons.com)

Healthy, high-quality fats actually assist the body in absorbing proper nutrients, and breaking down plant cellulose fiber. This is crucial, as otherwise, your body is ill-equipped to do this on its own. Your grandmother knew exactly what she was doing when she fried up those collard greens in lard and poured a little vinegar on top. This is why our ancestors realized that oil was crucial to the nutrient absorption from raw vegetables (hence salad dressing). Acid plus oil equals the ideal "solvent" for proper plant cellulose break-down (but we'll save the topic of acids for another blog).

A low-fat diet is not the best option. Even for those with gallbladder issues, or even for folks whose gallbladders have been removed. The type of oil is to be considered, and my recommendation would be coconut oil.

When purchasing coconut oil, my recommendation would be extra-virgin, fermented coconut oil. You may purchase this at: www.wildernessfamilynaturals.com or www.tropicaltraditions.com

Coconut oil is an ideal oil for the athlete. I take 6 capsules per hr. for endurance events. Past 2 hours of vigorous, ongoing exercise, your body is in need of a more long-term fat source for fuel. Dean Karnazes, the "Ultra-Marathon Man" prefers vials of olive oil, 1 per hr. He learned this trick from the "Navy SEALS," as they've tested this fat source out as fuel in the most rugged of conditions.

I would experiment for yourself to find your ideal oil source for endurance sports. Coconut oil seems to be easier on my digestive system. The digestive system goes into "hibernation" mode, so that all necessary fuel goes directly to the muscles during exercise. Coconut oil seems to not bother my stomach, make me feel nauseated, and gives me long-lasting energy.

A question I get often is, "How do you take coconut oil when you're exercising? Isn't it cumbersome and messy?" I take it in capsules (see brand below). Your local health food store may carry this product. If not, you can order it directly online.

I would highly recommend reading up on coconut oil's benefits, incorporating it into your cooking, baking, and other high-heat activities. Melt it like butter, and put it in a smoothie. Its a versatile oil whose health benefits will be felt within hours.

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