Coconut Power

Ask around your gym about coconut products and you’ll find the only answer you get is that they are, “Ahhhmaaaziiing.” Coconut cream is like nothing else — a cross between the flavor of macadamia butter and coconut milk.  Not up to speed on why fat, especially saturated fat, is the CrossFitter’s and Elite Athletes main source of fat and calories?

Fat and happiness

Fat, aside from tasting delicious, results in satiety signals in brain that make us feel satisfied, full, and happy. Sugar does the opposite; after it’s quickly metabolized — removed from your blood stream and stored as body fat (if not used in exercise immediately) — strong hunger sensations ensue. Fat on the other hand leaves you satisfied and causes no insulin/blood sugar spike/crash.

Many paleo treats (paleo muffins, paleo pancakes paleo ice cream, paleo cookies) grace the blog comments and many a Facebook wall that, albeit technically paleo, entirely miss the point of eating in an evolutionary, paleo way, especially if eaten regularly. These treats tend to be quite high in sugar. What is ‘the point’? Among the big ones: to restore insulin sensitivity and a health-promoting ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet (and eventually your body).

What’s wrong with many of these treats on a regular basis? Your body’s systems see little difference between Chips Ahoy and Paleo Treats or your latest agave/molasses/raw honey/date/banana-based paleo muffin. Insulin sensitivity being the key to fixing all kinds of health issues and promoting longevity, a paleo source of concentrated sugar (while slightly more nutrient dense than a refined carbohydrate equivalent) is metabolically just as bad.

Add to this that most of these paleo treat recipes call for copious amounts of nut butter high in omega-6 fats. Most nuts are very high in omega-6 – an essential fatty acid that should be at about a 1:1 or better ratio favoring omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA – abundant in cold water fish, grass-fed meats). While some nuts may have omega-3 in them, compared to omega-6, it’s nearly negligible. Now, mash them up in a concentrated format that’s easy to eat and tastes like heaven, and you have something potentially dangerous. Also, many may make the mistake of using abysmally low-quality oils in the recipe (canola, vegetable oil which often contain already oxidized fats, and even trans fats despite labeling) or an otherwise good oil at high temperature causing it to oxidize (olive oil for example).

Why does this belong in the fat discussion? Because if you want to get on the bus headed for optimal performance, fat loss, longevity, any of that, I can confidently summarize that you ought to learn to quell your sugar tantrums (and subsequent insulin spike and blood sugar crashes), sweet tooth and dessert habits with high-quality fat. Sugary paleo goodies, dried fruit, or even some fresh fruits (the extremely high-GL, sugary tropical ones, enormous apples, oranges, etc.) should be for rare treats.

Take Homes:
  • Limit paleo treats high in sugar and omega-6-dense fats (nut/butters) to once in a while
  • Limit your intake of nut butters and nuts as a small fraction of your total fat intake
  • Use high quality oils in your treats (and in cooking in general) – tropical oils, animal fats
  • Don’t limit your fat intake from whole animal/plant sources; eat these to satiety and then, if you still want something sweet, choose wisely

Back to the Coconut

Coconut oil and products have gotten a very bad rap in years past, along with other foods high in saturated fat (like eggs, fatty meats, and other animal fats) or fat in general. The sat-fat issue usually gets me the biggest eyebrow-raises when I introduce paleo to someone new (along with cholesterol and eating the whole — GASP — yolk). The New York Times story of how and why lipophobia/fatophobia began and proliferates is utterly fascinating. If you want the detailed version, read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories or the Dr.’s Eades Protein Power. Coconut is, in a word, amazing. It’s about 90% saturated fat making it very healthy and an excellent, stable cooking oil. It’s also got a little protein, and a very small amount of usable sugars. Regularly eating coconut fats helps normalize blood lipids, its fats and nutrients help prevent and repair liver, kidney and gall bladder diseases. The association with improved insulin sensitivity (reversing pre-/diabetes, getting rid of cortical belly fat, hypoglycemia, etc.) has to do with its fatty acid content (and its role in displacing sugar in the diet). Of the types of fats in a coconut, about 50% are medium chain fatty acids (MCFA’s) called lauric acid. Not only is this an optimal source of fuel for activity, but it also has germ-fighting properties, and plays a role as a precursor to compounds that help maintain a healthy immune system. Here’s a quote from Dr. Mary Enig’s book Know Your Fats: “Lauric acid… has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid.”

So head to your local grocer and stock up on one of the world’s most miraculous foods!