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COCONUT OIL, BULLET PROOF COFFEE, MCTS & CHOCOLATE "FAT BOMBS"
by Coach Courtney, RD www.vitalitynutrition.ca
Recently, MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides) have had a surge in popularity with health claims including improved cognitive function, weight management, and increased energy. Coconut oil is one source of MCTs but recently more concentrated “MCT oils” have been growing in popularity. Most commonly being added to Bullet Proof coffee which is a blended drink including coffee, butter, and MCT oil.
With MCTs growing in popularity, many health conscious Canadians are wondering whether they should include MCTs or coconut oil in their diet or even replace their breakfast with a Bullet Proof coffee. To understand MCTs, it is helpful to understand dietary fat in general. Dietary fat is classified as being either saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated, based on the number of double bonds that exist in the fat's molecular structure. For each of these three classes, there exists a large number of fatty acids. Most of the fat in the foods we eat is in the form of triglycerides which are made up of three fatty acids. A triglyceride can be classified as short, medium, or long-chain depending on the amount of the fatty acids it contains. How the Body Processes MCTs The structural differences in fatty acid chain length changes how our body processes them. Because MCTs have a shorter chain length, they are more easily digested and absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract than Long Chain Triglycerides (LCTs). MCTs are transported directly from the gastrointestinal tract through the bloodstream to the liver. In comparison, LCTs take a longer route through the lymphatic system and then the circulatory system before they eventually reach the liver. Both types of fats start at the same place (the gastrointestinal tract) and end in the same place (the liver) but the MCTs take the fast lane while the LCTs travel the long, scenic route! Additionally, while the LCTs require a substance called carnitine to enter the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) the MCTs can enter the mitochondria freely so they aren’t limited by the availability of carnitine. In simpler terms, the energy from MCTs is more easily accessible because our body is able to absorb and use them faster than fatty acids that are longer in length. Thus, there is some evidence that MCTs can give a quick energy boost to the body and brain. MCT oils MCTs are found naturally in coconut oil, palm oil, human breast milk and in full-fat cow and goat milk. Pure MCT oil is manufactured by isolating the MCTs from coconut or palm oil to create a liquid oil devoid of LCTs. While many people confuse MCT oil with coconut oil, they are not the same. Coconut oil is a whole food with a variety of saturated fats, including a combination of MCTs and LCTs. Coconut oil and saturated fat Coconut oil has not traditionally been recommended as a healthy oil because it is mostly saturated fat. Past research has shown that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease by elevating LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in our body. While the research on saturated fat and heart health is currently mixed (and very controversial!) it is important to know that there are different types of saturated fats that seem to make a difference in terms of their health properties. With no consensus on the research, government organizations, including the American Heart Association, don’t currently have the green light to broadly recommend coconut oil as the best type of fat for the general public.
Bullet Proof Coffee Bullet Proof coffee is sure to satisfy your appetite as it contains 28g of fat (depending on how you make it) and about 250 calories. It won't raise blood sugars or cause a sugar crash the way processed carbs or typical breakfast cereals will. By managing blood sugars through a higher fat and lower carb breakfast, some find their hunger is reduced which helps to manage total calories for weight loss. As described above, the MCTs are digested differently which can provide a surge of energy to keep you focused through the morning. For those who find themselves rushed in the morning, are experimenting with a reduced carbohydrate intake, or struggle with breakfast, Bullet Proof coffee could be an excellent start to the day. On the other hand, you may not feel satisfied drinking your calories and fat. Breakfast provides an opportunity to include many other nutrient-dense ingredients to optimize intakes of protein and fibre which can also be satisfying and reduce blood sugar peaks and crashes. Classic breakfast ingredients like eggs, oatmeal, berries, and avocado also provide vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Bullet Proof coffee offers only fat which may not be an issue for those who ensure a variety of whole, unprocessed foods throughout the rest of their day. Keep in mind that adding MCT oil and butter to coffee adds extra calories and fats that need to be accounted for and timed appropriately. Bullet Proof coffee can be a way to abstain from carbohydrate in the morning and obtain a source of fat that won’t increase insulin levels (the way a carbohydrate food would). Consider Bullet Proof coffee as a meal replacement and not something to enjoy alongside a balanced breakfast of carbs, protein, and fat. Personally, I would rather eat my calories than drink them. For example, I could enjoy an entire avocado (which would also provide fibre) for the “price” of 2 tablespoons of oil in my coffee. This is my personal preference but doesn’t mean that Bullet Proof coffee isn’t the right choice for you.
This photo compares 1 tablespoon of oil as an equivalent amount of fat as 1/2 avocado Bullet Proof coffee is to be used for a very specific purpose (which can be advantageous) but you have to understand the “why” behind it. Becoming fat adapted and abstaining from carbohydrate can be a successful strategies for some people but it depends on the goal. If you are highly active and engaging in intense physical activity it is likely that you will thrive with some carbohydrate in your diet. However, if you are implementing a low carb or ketogenic diet, the fats from the Bullet Proof coffee can make up for the calories lost from carbohydrate. Courtney’s philosophy on coconut oil, MCT oil, and Bullet Proof coffee Coconut oil or MCT oil can be a part of a well balanced diet that includes a variety of unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. I don’t suggest purchasing tubs of coconut oil or MCT oil and eating it (or drinking it!) devoid of hunger or with the expectation it will provide miracle health properties. It's not about "adding" these oils to a junky diet, but using it to replace poor quality oils – especially the pro-inflammatory oils and fats founds in processed foods like commercial baking, muffins, crackers, and chips. Our bodies need a variety of fats and can benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties found in omega-3 rich fats (such as walnuts, salmon, and chia seeds), the monounsaturated fat rich foods (found in olives, olive oil, flaxseed, nuts and seeds, and avocado), and even some saturated fats (including butter, animal fats, full fat dairy, and coconut). The bottom line is that the evidence on the benefits of coconut oil and saturated fat is still inconclusive. If you consume a diet high in animal products such as dairy products, butter, and meats, you likely get more than enough saturated fat. If you want to enjoy coconut products or MCTs, purchase them in an unprocessed state like extra virgin coconut oil, coconut milk, unsweetened coconut flakes, or coconut butter/manna (my personal favourite). Recognize that adding extra oils provides calories and fats - adding them on top of your current diet may add unnecessary calories that can lead to weight gain. To summarize:
Recognize your current state of health. If you already struggle with elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, adding coconut oil to your diet might not be the best first step for improving your health. Talk to a dietitian to consider other nutrition and lifestyle strategies that could be addressed first.
Consider your entire daily food intake. How much of your diet is made up of refined carbs, deep fried foods, commercial baking, or processed meats? Are you current choices optimizing nutrient intake? Would there be a better place to start over adding coconut oil and MCTs to your diet?
If you follow a carefully planned diet filled with unprocessed, whole foods you may consider MCTs or coconut oil as a way to add variety to your intake or experiment with your diet. However, be accountable to your experiment. If cholesterol levels are a concern, work with your doctor to monitor your blood work to ensure any changes you are making are improving your health.
If you are experimenting with intermittent fasting or struggling with breakfast, Bullet Proof Coffee could be your answer. But remember, a “real food” breakfast balanced with protein, carb, fats, and fibre can be equally satisfying and nutritious.
I love coconut manna! (also called coconut butter). I find a spoonful after a meal to be a satisfying (yet low sugar) ‘dessert’. The coconut manna is made of pureed dried coconut flesh. It is mostly saturated fat but does contain some fibre. I use the coconut manna to make no-sugar added chocolates (see recipe below) which are quite satisfying if you are craving something sweet. The chocolates are mostly fats and fibre. If you’re expecting a sweet peanut butter cup flavour you might be disappointed! Although the ingredients are simple and healthy, the chocolates are calorie dense so be mindful of your portion! Having one is likely to satisfy a sweet tooth. If you do a quick Google search you can find all sorts of recipes for homemade "fat bombs" - this is my take on a chocolate "fat bomb". The almond butter, coconut butter, and cocao powder all contain fibre so each chocolate contains 3g of fibre.
You can purchase coconut butter (manna) online or purchase it at Bulk Barn.
1/2 cup (120g) coconut butter (manna) or coconut oil
1/2 cup (120g) almond butter
1/2 cup (50g) cocao powder
optional: add some stevia which is a non-nutritive and zero sugar sweetener. I find the recipe to be fine without it but if you prefer something sweeter you may want to add a bit.
Add the ingredients to a microwave-safe bowl
Microwave the mixture for 45 seconds or until the coconut butter and almond butter are melted.
Stir to combine the cacoa powder, coocnut butter, and almond butter
Line two muffin trays with sixteen paper liners
Evenly divide the mixture into 16 portions (about 1-2 tablespoon per muffin tin). Optional: add a sprinkle of unsweetened coconut to each chocolate.
Let them set in the freezer. After they have set I recommend storing them in the freezer so they don't melt!