Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My friend the Coconut Oil...but wait, there's fat?

Why is coconut oil my friend? Because it is fantastic in raw desserts! It's used as a setting agent. It's melting temperature is 76 degrees F so once it's in the fridge, it will harden up pretty nice. I don't recommend eating Coconut Oil every day in large amounts, but if you're going to eat a fat, this one is a better alternative than butter.

I'm sure many of you have heard how Coconut Oil contains "medium chain" fatty acids as opposed to short or long chained. People say it will more likely to be used as energy than the longer chain fatty acids. That I have yet to look into, but let me share with you the difference of Medium Chain vs. Long Chain fatty acids and how they're processed in your body.

This is taken from wikipedia and it explains how fatty acids are absorbed in our system:

"Short- and medium-chain fatty acids are absorbed directly into the blood via intestine capillaries and travel through the portal vein just as other absorbed nutrients do. However, long-chain fatty acids are too large to be directly released into the tiny intestine capillaries. Instead they are absorbed into the fatty walls of the intestine villi and reassembled again into triglycerides. The triglycerides are coated with cholesterol and protein (protein coat) into a compound called a chylomicron.

Within the villi, the chylomicron enters a lymphatic capillary called a lacteal, which merges into larger lymphatic vessels. It is transported via the lymphatic system and the thoracic duct up to a location near the heart (where the arteries and veins are larger). The thoracic duct empties the chylomicrons into the bloodstream via the left subclavian vein. At this point the chylomicrons can transport the triglycerides to where they are needed."

Ok may seem like a lot of mumbo jumbo. Let me break it down and try to make some sense of it.

Short and Medium chain fatty acids are absorbed directly into the blood as other nutrients are.

Long chain fatty acids cannot go directly into the blood as do the others because they are too large. They reassembly themselves in triglycerides (not cool) and then they have one heck of a ride through your arteries and eventually to the blood.

Now that we've covered how it's absorbed, let's look at the Coconut Oil fatty acid profile:

Fatty AcidSaturationCarbonsPercent
OleicMonounsaturated18 6.2

Coconut oil contains approximately 92.1% saturated fatty acids, 6.2% monounsaturated fatty acids, 1.6% polyunsaturated fatty acids. The above numbers are averages based on samples taken. Numbers can vary slightly depending on age of the coconut, growing conditions, and variety.

What you want to look at is the number of carbon atoms present.
Short Chain = <6
Medium = 6-12
Long = 14 or more

So what you're looking for is the number of carbon atoms. As you can see, most of the carbons present are 6-12. Coconut oil, on average, as about 62.5% medium chain fatty acids.

Now if you're going to have fat in your diet, wouldn't you want a fat that travels essentially directly to your bloodstream? I sure would!

Hope this helps clear up a few things about Medium vs. Long Chain fatty acids!

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