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science nutrition blog

science nutrition <strong>blog</strong>

 By Steve Blechman



Plant-based meat products are the big rage right now. According to the January 2, 2020 Wall Street Journal, “market research firm Euromonitor International estimates the 2019 meat-substitute market in the US at $1B, up 78.5% from $586M in 2014.” It’s becoming more and more popular. The Beyond Meat company stock has been growing in leaps and bounds since the initial public offering. Many people have the impression that plant-based meat is a healthier alternative to ordinary meat. The media is raising health concerns about plant-based meat substitutes like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger. It was recently reported January 22, 2020 by Bloomberg News that Burger King cut their Impossible Whopper price on slowing sales as U.S. restaurants are looking to add more plant-based options. The meat industry full-page ad that appeared in the December 10, 2019 New York Times says, “Think plant-based meats are healthier than natural meats?” “Fake meats don’t grow on vines. They’re ultra-processed imitations that are assembled in industrial factories.” Plant-based meat products also are high in sodium and uncooked 4 oz beef patty has about 75mg of sodium compared with 370mg of sodium in the Impossible Burger, and 390mg of sodium in the Beyond Burger. Research has shown that “Plant-based proteins have less of an anabolic effect than animal proteins due to their lower digestibility, lower amino acid content (especially leucine) and efficiency of other amino acids such as sulfur, lysine.” (Nutrients; August 7, 2019.) The main source of fat in many of these plant-based meat products contains coconut oil, which is a highly saturated fat. 

A most recent study and the most definitive study year to date is a major systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials that was published in the January 13, 2020 prestigious journal Circulation, which is sponsored by the American Heart Association. A total of 16 articles were included in the meta-analysis, which noted: “coconut oil consumption significantly increased LDL cholesterol compared to non-tropical oils.” The conclusion of the study was, “Coconut oil consumption results in significantly higher LDL-cholesterol than nontropical vegetable oils. This should inform choices about coconut oil consumption.”

Another new study in the Journal of Medicinal Food (December 3, 2019) found that virgin coconut oil feeding had a negative effect raising LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, inflammation, and enhanced body fat accumulation. Many people think that coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil, is healthy. This is because virgin coconut oil also contains natural polyphenols, which are antioxidants and good for your health. However, both coconut oil and virgin coconut oil still had a negative effect on blood lipids, inflammation and fat storage. Many people assume that coconut oil is beneficial for weight loss; nothing is further from the truth. Coconut oil is a popular health trend. I do not recommend its use for weight loss or optimal health.

The truth is coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fats. The science does not support coconut oil as a healthy oil! In a study published in the prestigious journal Circulation, Dr. Alice Lichtenstein, one of the lead authors of the study, told FitnessRx/MD Contributing Editor J.A. Giresi via email: “There are no known benefits to using coconut oil in place of vegetable oils such as soybean, canola and corn oils. There is a disadvantage. Whereas most vegetable oils are high in either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fatty acids, coconut oil, sometimes referred to as a tropical oil, is high in saturated fatty acids. The data consistently demonstrate that replacing sources of dietary saturated fatty acids with sources of unsaturated fatty acids, either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, improves cardiovascular disease risk factors and is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk.”

Coconut oil contains 90% saturated fats; the main fatty acids in coconut oil are lauric, myristic and palmitic acid. These three fatty acids are the most atherogenic saturated fats and most abundant in coconut oil! A British Medical Journal (BMJ) study published in 2016 examined the association of individual and combined saturated fatty acid intake (lauric, myristic, palmitic and stearic acids) with heart disease risk in more than 73,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 42,000 from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS). The BMJ study concluded: “Lauric, myristic, palmitic and stearic acids are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease after multivariate adjustment of covariates. Risk of coronary heart disease is significantly lower when replacing the sum of these four major saturated fatty acids with polyunsaturated fat, whole grain carbohydrates, or plant proteins, with the lowest risk observed when palmitic acid, the most abundant saturated fatty acid, was replaced.”

Renowned Harvard Researcher Walter C. Willett, M.D. said this about saturated fats in the Harvard Health Letter: “Too much saturated fat in the diet is unhealthy because it raises “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease. So, it would seem that coconut oil would be bad news for our hearts.” Dr. Willett also said, about using coconut oil, “But, for now, I'd use coconut oil sparingly. Most of the research so far has consisted of short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. We don't really know how coconut oil affects heart disease. And I don't think coconut oil is as healthful as vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL.”

The research has shown that the saturated fatty acids that also raise LDL (bad) cholesterol are found in coconut oil (lauric, myristic, palmitic acid). On the chart where coconut oil is listed in the Circulation study, it has about 90% saturated fats. Butter has about 64% saturated fat and beef about 40% saturated fat. Not only is coconut oil the richest source of saturated fat but also a rich source of saturated fatty acids (lauric, myristic and palmitic acids) that raise LDL cholesterol. Palmitic acid is the worst saturated fat when it comes to cardiovascular health and raising LDL cholesterol. Research has shown that palmitic acid is the most atherogenic fatty acid and also enhances inflammation. Animal fats such as meat and butter are rich sources of palmitic acids. Also, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that increasing dietary palmitic acid decreases fat oxidation (fat burning) and daily energy expenditure (thermogenesis). The study found that oleic acid, the most abundant fatty acid in olive oil, had the opposite effect increasing fat oxidation, energy expenditure and thermogenesis. The study said that “increases in dietary palmitic acid may increase the risk of obesity and insulin resistance.” Proliferator-activated receptor c coactivator 1a (Pgc-1a) is a critical regulator of brown fat (BAT) activity in response to environmental stimuli such as cold temperature and diet (Environmental Epigenetics, 2017). Palmitic acid inhibits Pgc-1a while oleic acid increases it; therefore, palmitic acid is not desirable if you want to increase brown fat activity. Monounsaturated fats are preferred along with omega-3 fats from fish if you want to increase brown fat activity, thermogenesis and fat loss. Not all saturated fats have a negative effect on LDL (bad) cholesterol. For instance, stearic acid, a saturated fat found in cocoa butter, does not raise LDL cholesterol, according to recent research.

Research has shown that medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) also do not have a negative effect on blood lipids in humans. MCTs significantly increase “good” HDL cholesterol with no effect on triglycerides or “bad” LDL cholesterol. Don’t confuse MCTs with coconut oil. Claims that the majority of fat in coconut oil are MCTs is untrue. The thermogenic/weight-loss research has been done on pure MCT oil, not coconut oil. It’s inaccurate to apply the research on pure 100 percent MCT oil to coconut oil, which only has 13 percent of MCTs.

MCTs are a form of saturated fat that has shorter chains of fatty acids. MCTs naturally increase the production of ketones in the liver and stimulate ketogenesis. Research has shown that MCT supplements, unlike ketone supplements, do not cause feedback inhibition or reduce ketone production! MCTs also help reduce appetite and food intake, enhance fatty acid oxidation, fat burning, energy expenditure and thermogenesis, and reduce body fat accumulation in humans.

A randomized controlled trial found that MCTs combined with vitamin D3 and the amino acid leucine can increase muscle strength and function (Journal of Nutrition, 2016). Research has shown that MCTs combined with leucine and vitamin D3, found in AML™ THERMO HEAT® FAT BURNING PROTEIN, are the ultimate anabolic fat-burning combo!

Over the last few years, I launched AML® THERMO HEAT, the most scientifically advanced brown fat and thermogenic supplement line ever developed! One of those products, AML™ THERMO HEAT® FAT BURNING PROTEIN, contains nutrients that have been shown to increase brown fat activation and thermogenesis. Nitric oxide has been shown to activate BAT and thermogenesis. Nitric oxide and nitric oxide precursors such as citrulline have been shown to increase BAT and thermogenesis. Grape skin extract has been shown to increase nitric oxide production. Polyphenols are being studied for their role in fat metabolism and obesity management. Folic acid also boosts nitric oxide availability, by increasing BH4 and decreasing homocysteine levels. Research has shown that folic acid can lower homocysteine levels, increase insulin sensitivity and lower fasting insulin levels in type 2 diabetes. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), grains of paradise (40mg - standardized for 12% paradol, a clinically effective dose) and BioPerine® black pepper fruit extract are all included for further activation of brown adipose tissue (BAT) and thermogenesis. Grains of paradise, a spice containing 6-paradol, like chili peppers containing capsaicin, activate BAT, increase whole-body energy expenditure and decrease visceral fat (deep abdominal fat) in humans. Allulose is added as a natural, low-calorie, fat-burning, thermogenic sweetener. It is approved for low-sugar/low-carb or ketogenic diets. Allulose does not impact blood sugar or insulin levels.



  1. The Effect of Coconut Oil Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials. January 13, 2020. Circulation: AHA. Nithya Neelakantan, Jowy Yi Hoong Seah, and Rob M. van Dam.
  2. Virgin Coconut Oil Associated with High-Fat Diet Induces Metabolic Dysfunctions, Adipose Inflammation, and Hepatic Lipid Accumulation. Deise Jaqueline Ströher, Micaela Federizzi de Oliveira, Patrícia Martinez-Oliveira, Bruna Cocco Pilar, Márcia Denise Pavanelo Cattelan, Eliseu Rodrigues, Kalyne Bertolin, Paulo Bayard Dias Gonçalves, Jacqueline da Costa Escobar Piccoli, and Vanusa Manfredini. Journal of Medicinal Food, December 3, 2019, ahead of print
  3. Berrazaga I, Micard V, Gueugneau M, Walrand S. The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance: A Critical Review. Nutrients 2019;11(8):1825. Published 2019 Aug 7. doi:10.3390/nu11081825
  4. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association Frank M. Sacks, MD, FAHA, Chair, Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, FAHA, Jason H.Y. Wu, PhD, MSc, Lawrence J. Appel, MD, MPH, FAHA, Mark A. Creager, MD, FAHA, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, FAHA, Michael Miller, MD, FAHA, Eric B. Rimm, ScD, FAHA, Lawrence L. Rudel, PhD, FAHA, Jennifer G. Robinson, MD, MPH, FAHA, Vice Chair, Neil J. Stone, MD, FAHA, and Linda V. Van Horn, PhD, RD, FAHA, Vice Chair On behalf of the American Heart Association.
  5. A new study and randomized controlled trial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published on July 23, 2019 found that small amounts (6 grams/daily) of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) could increase the muscle strength and function of frail elderly adults. The study found that MCTs are promising nutrients for sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass caused by the natural aging process. Muscle loss is a serious problem in older adults, leading to decreased quality of life, diabetes and premature death. Dietary protein is an important stimulator of muscle protein synthesis. Older adults can stimulate muscle protein by consuming supplements containing protein and leucine (Clinical Nutrition 2013, 32: 412-419; Journal of Physiology 2012, 590: 2751-2765).
  6. Hu, F.B., J.E. Manson, Willett, W.C. Types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr, 2001;20(1): p. 5-19.
  7. Sakiko Abe, Osamu Ezaki, Motohisa Suzuki. Medium-chain triglycerides (8:0 and 10:0) are promising nutrients for sarcopenia: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 23, 2019 nqz138,
  8. Sakiko Abe, Osamu Ezaki, Motohisa Suzuki. Medium-Chain Triglycerides in Combination with Leucine and Vitamin D Increase Muscle Strength and Function in Frail Elderly Adults in a Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 146, Issue 5, May 2016, Pages 1017-1026,
  9. Devries MC, Philips SM, Baker SK et al. Leucine, Not Total Protein, Content of a Supplement Is the Primary Determinant of Muscle Protein Anabolic Responses in Healthy Older Women. The Journal of Nutrition, July 1, 2018.
  10. Churchward-Venne TA, Burd NA, Mitchell CJ, West DW, Philp A, Marcotte GR, Baker SK, Baar K, Phillips SM (2012). Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. The Journal of physiology, 590(11), 2751-65.
  11. Effects of a Vitamin D and Leucine-Enriched Whey Protein Nutritional Supplement on Measures of Sarcopenia in Older Adults, the PROVIDE Study: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Bauer, Jürgen M et al. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, Volume 16, Issue 9, 740-747. September 2015