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Jamie Oliver, Coconut Oil and Fats

Reading a lot of health and fitness blogs, you’d be forgiven for thinking Coconut Oil had some magic properties that give you perfect health and immediate abs.

A client had a few questions about Coconut Oil yesterday after reading some of Jamie Oliver’s comments, so I thought I would organise my views into a blog post for future reference.

Jamie’s comments from his website:

“Sadly, coconut oil is a saturated fat – the type of fat associated with high cholesterol. Recent research has suggested, however, that the type of saturated fat present in coconut oil may be metabolised differently to other saturated fats, meaning it may not have the same adverse effect on blood cholesterol and general cardiovascular health. What is missed out by eating coconut oil, though, is the essential fatty acids found in unsaturated fats. These are the fats that help to keep our cholesterol healthy, as well as the fats that our bodies generally need, so while research is showing that the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil may not be as bad as we think, we may as well be eating the fat that we know is good for us!”

Now, there is still a lot of research to be done on coconut oil’s effects in the body and the “official” line is still to limit use of saturated fats, but Jamie’s comments miss a few key points and don’t really discuss how coconut oil could be used in a healthy diet.

Touted Health benefits

Coconut oil is mainly composed of saturated fats, but the way the molecules are arranged means it’s called a Medium Chain Triglyceride or MCT. Saturated fats are typically arranged in long chains that require more digestive power to break down. This difference means MCTs are easier to digest and are utilised more easily for energy.

Due to the types of fatty acids, it’s also supposed to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

Saturated = good for cooking with

Coconut Oil’s saturated composition, means it is a very stable form of fat.

Polyunsaturated fats (margarine, vegetable oils) are the least stable and when heated, they become damaged – some are so unstable they’ll go rancid at room temperature.

Monounsaturated fats (olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats) are somewhere inbetween.

Therefore if you are frying, coconut oil is a good choice. As would be ghee.

You should eat a range of fats

Jamie’s argument is based on the assumption that coconut oil displaces all other fats in the diet.

This shouldn’t be the case. Eat fish and vegetables you’ll get plenty of polyunsaturated fats, use Extra Virgin Olive Oil for dressings, eat avocados, have some real butter now and again, eat a few nuts/seeds occasionally and you’ll be fine.

The amount of fat still matters!

I’ve heard recently some people touting coconut oil as some magic weight loss food. It’s not. It still has the same calories as other fats – 9 calories per gram. That means a tablespoon has 117 calories. Cook with it by all means, but be sure to account for it within your calories – they can add up super quick with fats. Generally I’ll use a small piece of coconut oil, melt in the frying pan and the wipe it around the pan with a piece of kitchen paper.

Fats I use the most:

This is a list of fats sources I actually use. If you’re ever curious about what fats are in an item, there is a table on this Wikipedia page where you can order the columns to show you what items have the most of each fat type in. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturated_fat#Dietary_recommendations

Saturated Monounsaturated Polyunsaturated
Coconut Oil Extra Virgin Olive Oil Oily Fish
Ghee Avocado Various seeds
Butter Almond Butter
Meat Peanut Butter
Dairy (if tolerated) Macadamia Nuts

General fat intake guidelines:

Most people do well with fat between 20%-30% of calories. For the most part you can get this from whole foods – meat, fish, veggies, avocados, nut butters.

With a tablespoon of olive oil and some vinegar as a salad dressing, and cooking in a small amount of coconut oil (if you want to/like it), that covers it usually.

There should be no real reason to add coconut oil or butter to your coffee.

And as always – VARIETY is key. The better the range of foods you eat the better spread of nutrients you’ll get – fats included.

So there you go, don’t be scared of fats, but make good choices and don’t be fooled into thinking the calories in them won’t affect your weight goals.

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