Superfoods are nature’s fruits and vegetables dense in vitamins and minerals, and they can make a difference in your pet’s health. Coconut is a favorite here at kin+kind. Why coconut? Glad you asked!
Why Coconut: Healthy Skin and Coat
Setting aside (for a second) that coconut tastes awesome, holistic enthusiasts have been promoting coconut oil successfully for years. Coconut oil provides nutritional support and animal studies indicate that coconut has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties and can aid the body in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. These properties provide a critical nutritional base for your pets supple skin and coat.
The secret: fat! I know, I know - Mom tells us to avoid fatty foods. But Mom might not have explained the difference between good and bad fats.
Long-chain fats (“LCF”): These are the fats found in the vast majority of food, from meat to eggs, milk, and even plants. The issue here is that most Americans get way too much of these fats in their diets. LCFs in excess can increase the risk of diabetes and lead to higher body fat percentage.
Trans fatty acids: You see it in a lot processed foods like shortenings and margarine, seen on the ingredients list as some form of “hydrogenated vegetable oil.” They are usually man-made and added to food as a cheap shelf-life extender. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers these unsafe. Terrible choice!
Raw coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, and almost half of that is lauric acid. This medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) is what gives coconut oil its anti-inflammatory properties. Among this are other MCTs like caprylic, palmitic, myristic, and capric acid - more good fats! Coconut oil wins because no other oil has this concentration of lauric acid, which even lowers risks of cardiovascular problems by raising good cholesterol - high-density lipoproteins (HDL) - that helps reduce bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
Coconut Isn’t A Cure-All
The laws of social media state that every viral video generates an equal and opposite blog response, and the enormous popularity of coconut oil has predictably led to detractors. Coconut naysayers explain that many of the coconut oil benefits are found from animal studies that haven’t been tested on humans.
Conveniently, dogs and cats aren’t humans! And while it’s certainly true that there haven’t been many controlled trials on the extensive effects of coconut oil in the diet of dogs and cats, vets and pet health experts most often extrapolate from studies across species. Based on available knowledge, coconut has been widely endorsed for use in dogs and cats.
You may have seen a viral video of Karin Michels of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health declaring that coconut oil is “pure poison.” Why? Too much saturated fat. Still, as explained by another Harvard professor and outspoken critic of widespread use of coconut oil, Dr. Tom Brenna, “everything in moderation.” Author of the book Genius Foods, Max Lugavere, explains in this helpful video.
Not all coconut is created equal
Despite their differences, critics and enthusiasts agree that anyone hoping to benefit from coconut oil should turn to minimally processed versions. Coconut oil loses most of its nutritional value when processed, so be sure to look for keywords like “raw” and “cold-pressed.” As quoted in the New York Times, Harvard’s Dr. Tom Brenna explains:
Refined, bleached and deodorized, or R.B.D., coconut oil, which has been treated with solvents and subjected to intense heat, raises cholesterol so reliably that scientists have used it as a control when running experiments on different fats. The harsh processing may destroy some of the good essential fatty acids and antioxidants, such as lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid believed to raise good H.D.L. cholesterol.
“If you’re going to use coconut oil, make sure you get virgin oil,” Dr. Brenna says.
If you want to get the most out of your coconut oil, make sure it’s cold-pressed, because pressing the coconut meat at low temperatures helps it retain its nutrients. There is also expeller-pressed oil, which presses the oils at a slightly higher temperature so it loses some nutrients, but this is fairly minimal.
Basically: raw cold-pressed > expeller-pressed > RBD. Make sure you read the label carefully before buying, because most supermarkets sell RBD oil!
Not all pets are created equal, either
Some dogs and cats may have problems properly digesting foods, especially when introduced to new things like coconut oil. This usually just means that they need some time to adjust, which is why we suggest starting with smaller servings.
So what does it all mean?
In short, we’re big fans of coconut oil to supplement a complete diet for our dogs and cats. But the science is not final, so decide what is best for your pets in consultation with your veterinarian or nutritionist. In all events, highly processed foods are a no-go, so stick to the good stuff: raw and cold-pressed!
We’ll be talking more soon about the benefits of coconut oil as a topical treatment, so stay tuned for how this superfood keeps your pets beautiful from the outside too!
In the meantime, check out our blog posts on other sources of natural nutrition: