Coconut Oil: The “Fatless Fat” Many people may pick up a bottle of coconut oil at the supermarket or the supplement store, examine the label, and find that the nutrition facts display a high saturated fat content. Coconut oil has about 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, about 13 grams of which is saturated fat. But what makes this saturated fat different from the type found in processed foods as well as in red meats and cheeses?
The saturated fat in coconut oil is a special type of saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCT). These fats function differently than other saturated fats and differently than unsaturated fats as well. Medium chain triglycerides have been nicknamed “fatless fats”, and for good reason. They do not slow digestion as other fats do. On the contrary they actually provide energy for digestion. Medium chain triglycerides also cannot be stored as body fat, which mean they must be burned as energy. These characteristics of medium chain triglycerides make them good to use as a fat source in a pre-workout shake, because they will not “weigh you down” during your workout, and they will also provide energy for exercise.
The downside to the medium chain triglycerides found in coconut oil is that they are not essential fatty acids (EFAs), so they are not necessary for proper function of the body and they serve no specific purpose. Coconut oil is useful for adding calories from a healthy source, but it should not be relied upon as a primary source of fat in the diet.