A fatty acid is a molecule that is made up of a chain of carbon atoms. These chains can vary in length from 1 – 24 carbons. Fatty acids are given their names based on how long the chain is and at what position the “unsaturation” occurs. If the fatty acid is saturated then the carbon chain length determines the name.
What is a saturated fat? Each carbon atom in the fatty acid chain has room for two hydrogen molecules, except at the end where it has room for three. A fatty acid possessing two hydrogen atoms for every carbon atom in the chain is said to be saturated. A fatty acid missing two or more hydrogen atoms along the chain which causes double bonds between carbon atoms is said to be unsaturated. If there is one double bond the fatty acid is referred to as monounsaturated. If there are two or more double bonds found along the chain, the fatty acid is referred to as polyunsaturated.
Sources of saturated fat: Beef tallow (fat), dairy, palm oil, coconut oil
Saturated fats roles in the body include:
One - They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that is said to indicate proneness to heart disease. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) transports cholesterol from the liver to the tissues of the body and is considered in the mainstream to be the “bad” cholesterol. Lipoprotein (a), also called LP(a), is a subclass of lipoprotein. It’s a low-density lipoprotein (LDL), coupled to apoprotein (a), the protein portion of a molecule or complex consisting of a protein molecule joined to a non-protein protein molecule or molecules (such as a lipoprotein). LP(a) has been reported to be more atherogenic than LDL, and may be an independent risk factor for heart disease. Though largely thought to be determined by genetic factors, LP(a) levels have been significantly altered by the type of fat consumed in several reports.
A double blind study reported in the American Heart Association’s Journal Arteriosclerosis (), measured LP(a) levels in 29 men and 29 woman who ate 4 controlled diets in random order for 4 weeks each. Each diet contained 39% to 40% of energy as fatty acids. The diets were; 1 - oleic acid (monosaturated), 2 - moderate trans fat, 3 - high trans fat, and 4 - the saturated diet (lauric, myristic, and palmitic acid).
The study reports there were no statistical differences among LP(a) levels produced by consumption of the oleic, mod trans fat, or high trans fat diets.However, the saturated diet produced levels that were 8% - 11% lower than levels produced by the other 3 diets .
Two - They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins like Tylenol (Acetaminophen), and have been shown to reverse alcoholic liver injury. (2,3)
Three – They ideally constitute at least 50% of our cell membranes, which gives our cells integrity. When we consume too little saturated fat, or too much polyunsaturated fat, the cell walls become “floppy” and cannot function properly. (4)
Four – They play a vital role in the health of our bones. Mother nature placed saturated fat and calcium in the same food, milk, for a reason. In order for calcium to be effectively absorbed, saturated fat needs to be a major part of a healthy diet. (5,6)
Five – They enhance the immune system. (5)
Six – They are needed for proper utilization of essential fatty acids, i.e., omega-3’s. (7)
Seven – Stearic acid and palmitic acid, both saturated fats, are the preferred energy source of the heart. This is why the fat around the heart muscle is mainly saturated. The best sources for palmitic acid are beef, butter and palm oil.
Eight – They help protect us from harmful microorganisms.
Coconut oil is the most saturated of all fats. Saturated fat has three subcategories; short chain, medium chain and long chain. Coconut oil contains approximately 65% medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). Although recognized for its health benefits many centuries ago, it wasn’t until 40 years ago modern medicine found the source to be MCFA. Remarkably, mother’s milk contains the same healing powers of coconut oil. (8)
The saturated medium chain lipid lauric acid, which comprises over 50% of coconut oil, is the anti-bacterial, anti-viral fatty acid found in mother’s milk. (7) The body converts lauric acid into the fatty acid derivative monolaurin, which is the substance that protects adults as well as infants from viral, bacterial or protozoal infections. This was recognized and reported as early as 1966. (9)
Since the first half of the 19th century infection has been implicated as a cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD). (10) Researchers have been studying what causes the changes in the arterial wall. Professors Russell Ross and John Glomset formulated a hypothesis in 1973 about what causes CVD. They hypothesized that CVD occurs in response to localized injury to the lining of the artery wall, which has been brought about by a number of things including viruses. (11) The injury, in-turn causes inflammation/infection. The plaque that develops is a result of the body trying to heal itself. It has been very well established that pathogens play an integral role in cardiovascular disease. (12)
What is interesting about the role of viruses that have been found to initiate cardiovascular disease is they can be inhibited by the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil. One could say that consuming coconut oil decreases ones risk of cardiovascular disease.
Nine – They will help you lose body fat. That’s right, eating the right fat will cause one to lose fat.
Unless you’ve been in a vacuum, you’re aware that the U.S. has what’s called a weight problem. As a matter of fact, if you’re born in this country your chance of being overweight is greater than 60%. Another one of the great benefits of coconut oil, specifically the medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) it contains, is its ability to increase energy expenditure. In other words, it increases your metabolism.
Unlike long chain fatty acids (LCFA’s), MCFA’s are processed very easily by the body. When they are consumed MCFA’s are absorbed directly into the blood stream from the small intestines and go right to the liver. Once in the liver, they are easily burned as fuel. Because of their size and the ease in which they are processed, MCFA’s are not readily stored as fat. On the contrary, because of their size, LCFA’s are not as efficiently processed, and the body prefers to store them in fat cells.
MCFA’s metabolism boosting effects have been known for decades and are heavily documented through research:
In a study researchers compared the thermogenic effect between MCFA’s and LCFA’s after single meals. The meals were 400 calories consisted entirely of either MCFA’s or LCFA’s. The thermogenic effect of MCFA’s over six hours was three times greater than that of LCFA’s. Researchers concluded that as long as the calorie level remained constant substituting MCFA’s for LCFA’s would result in weight loss. (13)
Farmers found that when they fed their livestock feed that contained polyunsaturated oils like soy and corn oil animals readily gained weight. However, when they used feed that incorporated coconut oil the animals got leaner. The main reason for this is that polyunsaturated fats suppress thyroid function, which decreases the animal’s metabolic rate. Soy oils are the worst offenders because of the goitrogens (anti thyroid substances) they contain. (14) This is what happens to humans when we consume polyunsaturated oils. Is it any wonder the obesity epidemic is so bad when our consumption of vegetable fats has increased over 400%.(15)
Researchers at Vanderbilt University compared the thermogenic effect of liquid diets containing 40% of fat as either MCFA’s of LCFA’s. All subjects were studied for one week on each diet in a double blind, cross-over design. Resting metabolic rate did not change during the week. The thermogenic response to MCFA’s was roughly twice that of the LCFA’s. (16)
A study was published last year conducted by researchers at McGill University to evaluate existing data describing the effects of MCFA’s on energy expenditure and to determine their efficacy as agents in the treatment of obesity. They reported that several different studies have shown weight loss equivalent to 12 – 36 pounds a year simply by changing the types of oils used in everyday cooking and food preparation. Animal and human studies have shown greater energy expenditure, less body weight gain, and decreased size of fatty deposits when using MCFA’s as opposed to LCFA’s. (17)
Ten – They are the best fats to cook with, including repeat frying. This is because saturated fats are very stable and do not become rancid from heat exposure. Polyunsaturated fats like corn, sunflower, safflower, or soy oil, however, are a poor choice to use for cooking; heating polyunsaturated fats produces large amounts of free radicals. (11)
Free radicals or “chemical marauders” as some scientists refer to them wreak havoc on our bodies.
These chemical marauders damage whatever tissue is in their vicinity and are implicated in diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer. (11)
1. Plasma lipoprotein (a) levels in men and women consuming diets enriched in saturated, cis-, or trans-monounsaturated fatty acids . (1997). Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 17. Retrieved from http://atvb.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/17/9/1657
Cha, Y. S., & Sachan, D. S. (1994). Opposite effects of dietary saturated and unsaturated fatty acids on ethanol-pharmacokinetics, triglycerides and carnitines. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 13(4), 338-43. Retrieved from http://1.usa.gov/HLiOXH
Nanji, A. A. (1995). Dietary saturated fatty acids: a novel treatment for alcoholic liver disease. Gasrtoenterology, 109(2), 547-54. Retrieved from http://1.usa.gov/H6O2fM
Enig, M, & Fallon, S. (2005). Eat fat lose fat: lose weight and feel great with three delicious, science based coconut-based diets. New York: Penguin Group Inc.
Enig, M, & Fallon, S. (2000, January 01). The skinny on fats. Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1WA2xzD
McDonald, R E., & Min, D B. (1996). Food lipids and health. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.
Enig, M. (2000). Know your fats. Silver Spring: Bethesda Press.
Kabara, J J. (n.d.). Health oils from the tree of life – nutritional and health aspects of coconut oil. Retrieved from http://www.coconutoil.com/John%20Kabara.pdf
Lee, L. (2001, December). Coconut oil: why is it good for you. coconutoil.com, Retrieved from http://www.coconutoil.com/litalee.htm
Epstein, S., Zhu, J., Buenett, M S., & Zhou, Y F. (2000). Infection and atherosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 20. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/293YUyG
Furci, M. (2006, April 18). Fats, cholesterol and Your Health. Mindbodyconditioningsystems.com, Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1UicOi8
Getting to the heart of artherosclerosis. (1996). Unpublished manuscript, Office of Research, Washington University, Seattle, Retrieved from http://bit.ly/28UnjUV
Seaton, T B. (1986). Thermogenic effect of medium chain and long chain triglycerides in man. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 44, 630.
Daniel, K. (2005). The whole soy story. Washington: New Trends Publishing.
Enig, M., & Fallon, S. (2000, July 30). It's the beef. Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, Retrieved from http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/268-its-the-beef
Hill, J. (1989). Thermogenesis in humans during overfeeding with medium-chain triglycerides. Metabolism, 38(7), Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2739575
St-Onge, M P., & Jones, P J. (2002). Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity. The Journal of Nutrition, 132(3), Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11880549