Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Skinny on Coconut Oil

A couple of years ago, I was hospitalized for a complication related to the neuroendocrine tumor on my pancreas.  Generally, I think of hospitalizations as an event to be avoided at all costs. However, I learned a new piece of information that made the stay worth it.  

The attending oncologist talked to me about the benefits of coconut oil for individuals who don't produce enough pancreatic enzymes to digest fats properly. He explained that coconut oil is composed primarily of medium chain triglycerides, which makes it more digestible for people with pancreatic insufficiency. Wow...maybe I could add some fat back into my diet!  But what is a medium-chain triglyceride?  I had no idea.  

So, here's the skinny on this fat. 

Fats are comprised of chains that range in length.  Most common fats used in our Western diet consist of long-chain triglycerides.   Long-chain triglycerides require the action of pancreatic enzymes and bile salts for digestion.  In contrast, medium-chain triglycerides can be absorbed directly by the wall of the small intestine without the need for pancreatic enzymes. That is the key to why coconut oil, which is comprised of at least 65% medium-chain triglycerides, is an excellent choice for someone like me who doesn't  produce sufficient pancreatic enzymes. And even though I take prescription level pancreatic enzymes with each meal, I still have difficulty digesting fat.  (That's my polite way of saying I am ready to shove everyone out of my path to the bathroom after eating even small amounts of most fat.) But when I eat coconut oil, I am confident I look like a Polynesian model out for a leisurely stroll.    

So that is why I modify recipes calling for olive oil or butter etc, and use coconut oil instead.  And you were thinking that I used it because I was hoping to be transformed into a tropical beauty.   

If you would like more in-depth information and resources about this topic, please post a comment and I will gladly give you my long-version on the merits and potential problems of coconut oil with  references.