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Coconut Oil

Being someone who cultivates skepticism, I recently decided to give coconut oil another try; yes, even after I posted that negative study about how it may cause fatty liver.  My ethos is to keep experimenting and not be closed-minded. I don’t care about ideology and, above all else, my approach is practical.  Accordingly, I keep re-testing ideas and am willing to change my mind if something works.  I’ve been skeptical about gluten and had to experiment with it over a hundred times to accept that I experienced ill health effects from it.  Likewise, I kept experimenting with different types of dairy, thinking perhaps various modifications might make a difference. I’ve tried various moldy cheeses, aged cheeses, fermented varieties of milk (e.g.  kefir, goats dairy,  grass fed and every other variety on the market), all of which gave me issues.  Even the Capra mineral whey gave me issues.  The common denominator is the casein found in them.

The Fatty Acid Profile of Coconut Oil (R)

Coconut oil is composed of 91% saturated fat.

Caprylic saturated C8 9%
Decanoic saturated C10 10%
Lauric saturated C12 52%
Myristic saturated C14 19%
Palmitic saturated C16 11%
Oleic monounsaturated C18:1 8%
Other/Unknown 5.3%

Benefits of coconut oil

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Back to coconut oil. I had tried it quite a few times before (see my experience with a high-fat diet), but I thought maybe with an improved gut microbiota and my health in good shape things may be different this time around.  At first, it seemed like it was having a positive impact.  The thing I liked most about it was that it seemed to reduce inflammation from other foods if I ate it before those foods.  So having consumed coconut oil earlier in the day, I noticed less inflammation from consuming gluten, even 8 hours later.  I had noticed this effect previously.  This could work via the medium chain triglycerides reducing antigen uptake or perhaps because it lowers thyroid hormones and therefore autoimmunity – at least it does so in me (I will discuss how this is relevant in a future post).  I start feeling nauseous if I eat more than 1-2 tablespoons a day, so I didn’t consume more than 2 tablespoons a day for three days.  I used the extra virgin and organic variety.

Lo and behold, the problems started to crop up by day three.  The panacea that is coconut oil was anything but that. I started to feel weaker, as though I weren’t eating enough – yet I was full.  This feeling of weakness naturally led me to eat more carbs to maintain energy, but this caused problems, too.  I maintain that coconut oil is fine for your health if consumed within the context of a hypo-caloric diet.  The problem is when I consumed coconut oil and reduced my calories, I felt extremely weak.  That is, it felt like the oil was  clogging my brain and muscles and not permitting carbs to give these organs/tissues energy.  Strangely, my vision also started to get worse, just like the previous times, I had tried it.

Overeating, fasting, & the Paleo diet

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If I fast, these issues disappear, but I still have to endure quite a few hours of seriously weakened performance. What ends up happening in practice, however, is I over-eat and then experience neuroinflammation and decreased cognitive performance.   The experiment reminded me why many people in the paleo community tend to intermittently fast- they have to.  If they don’t, their cognitive performance would decline as they consume too many saturated fats.   I also noticed something I’d experienced before, which is equally critical: when you combine lots of saturated fats with fructose, the negative effects of each multiply more than when each is consumed alone. So whereas I can eat 8 tablespoons of honey a day without a problem, if I combine just 1 tablespoon of coconut oil with it, things go to hell in a hand basket.  Again, it makes sense why the paleo community is against fructose; because paleo enthusiasts are usually on high-fat diets.

I’ve tried many supplements to counteract these effects, the best ones being ALCAR and PQQ.  Berberine is pretty good, too.  But even with these supplements, I don’t have a smooth cognitive energy and I prefer how my brain works when I don’t have to take them to counteract the negative effects of too much saturated fat.  So if you’re intent on consuming coconut oil, at least be aware that if you happen to feel weak from it, you’re not alone; the stuff is kryptonite for me.

When I eat more starches and less fat, I’m able to enjoy more stability in my cognitive function.  However, many plant starches may pose problems for sensitive individuals because of substances in them that also cause inflammation.  To avoid that, most of my starches now come from Hi-Maize  resistant starch, Waxy Maize, and purple sweet potatoes – these are all less inflammatory than even the staple low-inflammatory starches such as white rice.  Whereas before I needed to take quite a few pills to bring down inflammation, on these three starches I don’t need to take any supplements for inflammation.

Phytic acid in more than limited amounts is what causes me to have inflammation from whole grains, which is missing in waxy maize and Hi-Maize.  Phytic acid also exacerbates IBS for me.  Refined grains like white rice, however, are problematic because of the insulin spikes. Hi-Maize  is mostly resistant starch and waxy maize is 90% amylopectin, both of which give a slow and steady source of energy.  There seem to be different types of amylopectin, which differ in terms of  how slowly they break down.  “Now Foods” claims that their waxy maize breaks down slowly; I can confirm this with my experiments.

The bottom line

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that all saturated fats are “bad.” Again, I maintain that it’s only a problem when excess calories are consumed, which isn’t very difficult to do since coconut oil is more calorically dense.  I don’t have any health issues consuming whole coconut shreds- probably because it’s harder to overdo, but also perhaps because there are other substances in the whole coconut that counteract the negative effects of the concentrated oil.  On Twitter, Lauren Cordain recommended coconut oil and defended it as being “Paleo” via some informationless article that proves only that people are idiots.  Coconut oil is as Paleo as seed oils. I believe the best measure of the suitability of a food is  how traditional cultures in the past 10,000 years consumed and viewed that food.  Coconut oil is a new food, like seed oils, and never consumed by our ancestors.  To say it’s fine because we’ve eaten the whole coconut for thousands of years is falling prey to the fallacy of division, which claims that if the whole is good, a purified version of it must also be good.  Ghee and olive oil, on the other hand, have been cherished and consumed for thousands of years, which makes it likely that they are healthy when used in moderation.

Ghee

I first experimented with ghee about 6 years ago and various times after that.  I forgot about it after experiencing issues with excess saturated fat and excess fat in general. In keeping with a more nuanced approach to saturated fat, I decided to experiment more with ghee after I read about its long historical usage in Ayurveda and how it’s been said to increase intellect and improve digestion – two things I value a lot. In my experience, traditional knowledge carries some kernel of truth when it comes to described benefits.  While modern science has completely surpassed cultural knowledge regarding how these substances work, it hasn’t surpassed thousands of years of self-hacking and the experimentation with these substances by various peoples.

Because I’m sensitive to most foods on one level or another, I decided that experimenting with a hypo-allergenic food like ghee could be useful.  My experience, thus far, has been quite positive.  If I have too much of it, it will obviously cause issues, but my tolerance is much higher for ghee than coconut oil.  I don’t get  the feeling of weakness that I get from coconut oil.  While I start to get negative effects from one tablespoon of coconut oil, I feel pretty fine after 7 tablespoons of ghee, even when I’ve also consumed about 7 tablespoons of honey.  There is also no nausea akin to what I experience with coconut oil.  I enjoy how it coats my stomach.  For this reason, I started to drink it with tea, which can often be harsh on the stomach.  Tibetans have long mixed rancid/fermented butter and tea together.

My jasmine-ghee recipe

Mixing half of a teaspoon of ghee  with 2g of Jasmine tea (best quality jasmine on the market, and yes quality makes all the difference here), gives me an incredibly smooth cognitive effect and can replace a meal if I happen to be drinking a lot of tea.  I find this formula balancing: the ghee and jasmine tea synergize well.  Jasmine tea increases my thyroid hormone levels, thereby inducing a stimulating effect. Ghee brings it down slightly, bringing a calming effect.  Tea increases fatty acid metabolism and ghee provides the fuel to be burnt.

Ghee can be used for cooking

Ghee has one of the highest smoke points of oils, so it can be put in hot water without oxidizing.  This is also why I use it for stir-frying when I’m in the mood for really savory food.  I especially like using ghee at night when I didn’t have a lot of calories earlier in the day since it tends to benefit my sleep by giving me a slow and steady source of energy. I use Organic and grass-fed ghee by Purity Farms.

Don’t overdo it

Ghee has 31% palmitic acid, which, when consumed in excess, is just as bad as  hydrogenated oils. I think a moderate dosage is a tablespoon a day, which is equivalent to 3 teaspoons or 6 cups of tea.

According to Whfoods:

When ghee is consumed at levels above 10% total calories, it can increase risk of cardiovascular disease. (For a person consuming 1,800 calories per day, 10% of those calories would be 180 calories, or about 20 grams of fat, which equals approximately 2 tablespoons of ghee.) At levels under 10% of total calories, however, ghee appears to help lower cardiovascular risks, especially when other fats consumed during the day are exclusively from plants or plant oils. Ref.

What makes Ghee different from coconut oil?

Ghee is comprised of full spectrum short, medium, and long chain fatty acids, both unsaturated and saturated. It contains vitamins A, D, E, K2 and the antioxidant CLA. Ghee also contains about double the short chain fatty acids and MCT’s than butter (25% vs. 12-15%).  More importantly, ghee doesn’t have casein, which is a protein found in all dairy and is highly inflammatory.  My guess is modern science doesn’t yet understand everything about ghee and there are surprises in store.

The bottom line

I think Ghee can be a useful tool in one’s toolkit – when used in moderation – whether it be for getting a good night’s rest, for cooking, or in combination with tea.  In my experience, the health effects are superior to coconut oil,  for reasons I don’t yet entirely understand.

Again, I recommend the organic and grass-fed ghee by Purity Farms.

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35 COMMENTS

  • Angie

    Our ancestors were more comparable to ouratangs; their bodies were adaptive to the harsh environment they lived in. Hunger was their enemy; inflammation was a luxury. Old man ate whatever they could find; they didn’t have easy access of stores of abundance. They must have scavenged coconut when they found it. It must have kept them feeling fuller all day. The human body is highly adaptable, so mother nature must have taken care of that. Their bodies must have been “tweaked” to be way much tolerant than ours.

    But they also walked barefooted a lot, moved a lot, sweated a lot, faced frequent “fight or fight” situations. Bottom line, inflammation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The fault is in the body, not in the food. A highly active body can handle excess.

    We are also equipped with a taste feature for a reason; coconut doesn’t “feel right” when tasting it; that’s a sign the modern body won’t tolerate it in excess or even in moderate amounts. But if needed for medicating purposes, a small amount should be enough (1/2-1 tea spoon).

    Coconut can make huge difference coping with Alzheimers’s patients as in many cases ketones are almost their only left source of fuel.

  • joker-san

    I don’t think your point on Coconut oil being new like seed oils is necessarily correct. I’ve known people from the Philippines who noted that their grand parents used it in their cooking before it was ever a fad, and that it was easy to extract from the coconut milk.

    It doesn’t necessarily work for everyone of course, but personally the effects have been very well, with better digestion and skin and a fuller feeling.

    1. Science Writer

      Grandparents are just two generations ago. On an evolutionary timescale, coconut oil is a modern invention.

      1. pamojja

        quote: “Coconut oil is as Paleo as seed oils. I believe the best measure of the suitability of a food is how traditional cultures in the past 10,000 years consumed and viewed that food.”

        Find it interesting that sesame seed and mustard seed oil was already known in the old Buddhist Pali Texts, going back to 2500 years ago. There aren’t any written records further back. So what can we really know about these earlier times? Considering some magnificent buildings of long past cultures difficult to accomplish even with todays technology? Also take a look at the traditional ox-powered mill picture at wikipedia’s article about coconut oil.

      2. JOKER-SAN

        that generation did not discover oil, they inherited it from long ago. Producing coconut oil is also an easy and simple process that does not require mechnical extraction. At its simplest form you can just make coconut milk and skim off the oil after applying a little heat, although the yields would be less than mechanical extraction. However, if you still consider this a modern invention, then the same could apply to butter and certainly ghee, since you have to milk animals (an agricultural activity), curd and churn the milk to produce butter, and then heat the butter until ghee is produced. In other words, all oils would be considered a modern invention, even tallow and lard since hunted animals are typically too learn to produce sufficient amounts of fat.

  • Jay

    Ghee should be used in moderation but a must use item for cooking especially for a family. Any doctor in India, with 1.25 billion people, will tell you if you consume even 2 table spoons of ghee per day you hit the limit. But ghee at optimal level is anti-inflammatory.

    Ghee has better metabolic profile; in combination with coconut oil and olive oil, Ghee will further boost metabolism. Boosting MCT is all the rage and it seems to show pretty good results.

    Apples to Apples the average American consumes much worse saturated fats than ghee or coconut oil. So this is a win win from a health standpoint. If you have a bad lip profile, cardiac condition or metabolic syndromes like Diabetes or lop sided blood glucose – you have to pay attention. If properly managed the combination of ghee, coconut oil, olive oil will improve your lipid profile provided you cut out all other animal fat.

    India which is the world’s larges dairy producer feeds grass to cows/water buffalos – not feed. I have seen diabetics in India manage their diet well with using Ghee or in combination with other oil. Diabetics do well with MCT. The downside is in India the sweets are loaded with lots of sugar and ghee which offset each other to a point. So attention must be paid to sugar but its no where near the 30 grams per soda level in America.

    My 7 cents!

  • Mark

    From my personal experience, it all depends how you use saturated fats (SFs). Just compared your
    blog entry diet details with what my diet is and in my view I cannot find a single case of a healthy combination of foods you consumed during your tests.
    From my point of view and to simplify matters when you go for a high fat diet, you target short chain SFs and you eliminate carbs. Not sure how to emphasize this. Zero carbs except cellulose from veggies! To give you an example treat even fruit the same as a high corn sirup based beverage.
    In a nutshell to see results as a first step, you want lots of short chain SFs, high fiber intake, medium protein and zero carbs in your diet. And calories is not an issue with this combination. Raise SFs till you’re content.
    Second you want to rotate brands of foods, origin/variety of foods and combination of foods you consume as much as possible in a similar manner as you would do with a regular diet. You wouldn’t eat the same things every day so it’s the same with SFs.
    Third you want to utilize the fats you consume as much as possible, I would use and rotate heavy supplementation of probiotics, enzymes, minerals, vitamins and herb extracts for this.

  • philmo

    Ah yes, dastardly palmitic acid. So evil, so toxic that it’s the body’s preferred storage form of energy. Kind of like how we make cholesterol in order to clog our arteries and give ourselves heart disease, our livers convert energy into palmitic acid to commit long, slow, agonizing suicide and develop diabetes. Makes sense.

    Read more: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/palmitic-acid-and-eating-speed/#ixzz3XI8CxeLd

  • Alex

    Really sorry for the typo. Was supposed to be Joe.

  • Alex

    Hi Hoe,
    I am wondering. I was advised to add four spoons of flaxseed oil (+ ground flax seeds) to my diet, by a M.D./nutritionist who I considered really knowledgeable. I started doing it something like week ago, as for now I do not any positive or negative effects – but then I read some really negative stuff about it, which got me thinking, whether I should be taking it. You haven’t mentioned flaxseed oil even once, so I wanted to know whether you have any thoughts on it?
    Best,
    Alex

  • Beverly

    This is a great article. I have also tried 2 types of high quality coconut oil and both somehow make me feel dizzy after consuming this oil. So I will use ghee in my recipes because it seems to work better for me.

  • frenchdonuts

    “Ghee has 31% palmitic acid, which, when consumed in excess, is just as bad as hydrogenated oils.”
    I wanted to point out that this is an instance of the fallacy of division. Anyways good website and good info. The ghee and tea mix sound promising.

  • Samuel

    I also have issues with casein and whey. Have you tried unpasteurized milk or sheep’s milk? I’m going to test these.

    1. Joe

      Yes and yes

  • Vili Volcini

    ” when you combine lots of saturated fats with fructose, the negative effects of each multiply more than when each is consumed alone.”

    I can definitely confirm this!

    Today I ate 500g of raspberry with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

    I crashed and slept like an idiot.

    Looks like I have to get rid of this coconut oil.

  • Phil

    Do you have any studies about coconut oil being inflammatory? Maybe the answer is to just eat the fats found in nature, like fatty meat and fish.

    1. Selfhacked

      I’ve posted studies elsewhere about excess saturated fat being inflammatory

  • Fritz.Harber

    Why did you reduce your consuption of green banans and replaced with Maize?

    Also, if you feel weak from fish (due to toxins) what is your main source of animal protein these days?

    1. Selfhacked

      Chicken , beef, pea protein and still some fish

  • Phil

    My understanding is that coconut oil is good mainly because it doesn’t contain much omega 6, which is inflammatory. Olive oil contains a significantly higher amount.

    I guess if you’re doing a regular carb diet then too much fat of any kind isn’t going to work as your liver is going to struggle to process both fats and glucose for energy. My tolerance for coconut oil has improved since I went ketogenic and cut out starches.

    1. Selfhacked

      Excess sat fat and omega 6 are inflammatory

  • Shawn

    It sounds like you would benefit from parboiled rice if you find white rice inflammatory due to the blood sugar / insulin spike. Try eating it after it has been cooked and chilled for even more resistant starch and better results.

    While waxy maize is clean it contains no micronutrients, so I’d think you’d want to replace it with whole food starches if you possibly could.

    1. Selfhacked

      White rice isn’t inflammatory, but it causes hypoglycemia a bit. If you look at my RS diet template, I already use cooled parboiled rice. It is, indeed, better than white rice and it’s my preferred whole food source of starch, secondary to purple sweet potatoes. It’s pretty clean. Waxy maize is devoid of nutrition, but I feel I have enough research under my belt to know all the nutrients to add in. This may be arrogance on my part, but my results are great so far and if anything changes I can always cycle it with whole food starches.

      1. Brian

        What are your thought’s on the amount of arsenic in rice?

        1. Selfhacked

          I’m more concerned about the crap in fish

  • Ahmad

    Would ghee and machta green tea get instead of Jasmine tea with ghee?

    1. Ahmad

      I mean would you get the same results or would jasmine tea work better.

      1. Selfhacked

        Better results from Jasmine

  • MattSade

    From your experience, do chickpeas have less phytic acid than soaked lentils? Do they cause you less inflammation?

    At what times do you consume the jasmine-ghee tea?

    It would be really interesting if you could post your current day’s menu.

    1. Selfhacked

      Morning/afternoon

  • Fritz.Harber

    You write that purple sweet potato/hi maize/waxy maize do not cause inflammation – what about winter squases/summer squashes, did they cuase inflmmation? what about orange sweet potato?

    1. Selfhacked

      It’s all a matter of degree for me. Squash did cause inflammation, but much less than gluten, dairy, etc…Overall, it’s one of the best plant foods. Orange sweet potatoes do, more than squash and white sweet potatoes.
      Carrots also gives me issues

  • Ahmad

    How is butter from grass fed cows compared to ghee? For example I use KerryGold butter with my coffee. I love the way it tastes. I do put MCT oil in it as well but I may back off of that to experiment after reading your article.

    1. Selfhacked

      Ghee is MUCH better. Butter has casein, which is inflammatory. Ghee also tastes very good.

      1. Ahmad

        I will give it shot. Thanks!

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