It’s official, the coconut craze has gone mainstream.
In the span of a few years, coconut oil has undergone one of the most radical transformations. Once maligned for its abundance of “bad fats,” it now is being widely celebrated for its health-giving properties.
So what gives?
While there’s certainly a measure of hype in the current coconut buzz, there’s also good reason to make coconut (be it as oil, milk, or in raw form) a dietary staple.
Especially if you’re a migraineur.
And it’s all about the ketones.
Coconut and Ketogenesis
To understand the unique benefits of coconut for the brain, generally and for migraines in particular, we need a little background on ketones.
Most cells in the human body are capable of burning either glucose or fatty acids (the building blocks of fat) as fuel. The brain, however, is an exception, as it can’t use fatty acids for energy.
But it can burn ketones.
For some time, we’ve known that, when the brain does use ketones as a fuel source, special things can happen. For almost a century now, we’ve known that ketones are a powerful weapon against seizures in children with severe epilepsy — far more powerful than the best prescription drugs, as it turns out.
Furthermore, research in the earlier part of the 20th century also showed that ketones had great promise in the prevention of migraines, but sadly this research was either overlooked or ignored for decades.
Nowadays, there’s renewed interest in the potential health benefits of ketones, primarily for various disease of the brain (neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons in particular, along with brain cancers), as they appear to protect brain cells against damage and degradation.
But in order to benefit from ketone production, your liver has to make them in the first place. And it only makes them under certain conditions. What are those conditions?
CONDITION 1: Fasting.
Earlier I said that that the brain only has two sources of energy: glucose and ketones. And if not enough glucose is coming in through the diet (in this case because you’re not eating), then the liver starts making ketones in order to keep the brain operational. This is referred to as “fasting ketosis.”
CONDITION 2. Ketogenic Diets.
A ketogenic diet is typically very low in carbohydrate (20 grams or less), high in fat, moderate in protein (too much protein can suppress ketone formation, because protein can be turned into glucose). Here again, not enough glucose is coming in through the diet (in this case through deliberate carbohydrate restriction), and so the liver again makes ketones to keep the brain operational. This is referred to as “nutritional ketosis.”
CONDITION 3. Eating MCTs.
MCTs, or “Medium-Chain Triglycerides,” are a special class of saturated fat. Special because they can be A) absorbed very quickly and easily into the liver circulation, and B) converted directly to ketones in the liver once they’re there.
So, to sum up, to stimulate the liver to make ketones you can either fast, eat a ketogenic diet, or eat foods rich in MCTs. Now guess what food is the best source of MCTs in all the land?
Yep, that’s right.
Most of the fat in coconut is in the form of MCTs. So, when you eat coconut, you get a quick hit of ketones into the bloodstream. The most concentrated dose of MCTs comes in the form of coconut oil, since it is nothing but the fats from the coconut.
Lastly, there are benefits to coconut oil that extend even beyond it’s ketogenic properties. One, it’s fantastic for cooking. Besides adding all that good fat to the food you cook in it, it has a very high smoke point, meaning you can cook at high temperatures before the fats transform (through heat) into unhealthier varieties. Also, the fats of coconut are very stable, meaning they can be stored, without refrigeration, for long periods of time without going rancid (rancidity is caused by the fats reacting with things in the air).
So it likely comes as no surprise that in the Turknett home we’re cooking with and eating coconut all the time. We use the oil often for cooking. We also add directly into certain foods — we put a tablespoon or so to our morning coffee (note: you will likely feel an additional energy surge from it), as well as into our smoothies.
We use coconut milk as an ingredient in many recipes, and I drink it every day as part of the smoothie I eat for breakfast.
Cheers to the almighty coconut!
(RELATED: If you’d like to reap the benefits of coconut and ketones , click here to check out Primal Provisions, our weekly meal planning service)
Take a look below at a few ways we use coconut, as well as our preferred brand of canned coconut milk.