How many times a day does a regular about the nutrition internets hear this term? One, two ... a dozen? In this community, it is often carbohydrates that are slapped with this tag. I find it ridiculous to label a class of molecules as "empty" with no mention of the context in which they are found and consumed. It is also rather warped that most of the residents of relatively wealthy countries view calories for the sake of the life sustaining energy -- so that the body doesn't have to cannibalize itself -- in a negative light. Does anyone really think paleolithic humans thought about whether their food came with an appropriate density of vitamins and minerals? Of course there would have been little opportunity for them to consume such foods ... those are processed/refined foods. I also cannot envision our ancestors passing up starchy plants to consume non-digestible fibers, but that's a topic for another day.
No, today, I want to discuss coconut oil. CO has been glorified and romanticized out of all proportion in the IHC. Over half of the fats in CO are medium chain triglycerides, MCT, though less than 10% are the shortest chain MCTs that you can buy as MCT oil. Coconut oil is the epitome of empty calories. Amy of Super Healthy Kids blog put this graphic together some time back, and blogged on this issue in Why We Don’t Buy Coconut Oil. As you can see, if you eat 100g of coconut, you still get the coconut fat (roughly 1/3rd as as much), but it comes with all of those other things that are zeroes down the CO column, or so negligible as to be essentially zero. The tropical cultures for whom coconuts are/were a major dietary staple are eating the coconut and getting all of this stuff.
Coconut oil is empty calories.
Coconut oil will also largely shut down the oxidation of body fat for fuel, as much or moreso than carbs. Say what? Yep. The majority of the fats are not useful for anything other than fuel in the human body. There are almost no essential fatty acids and we have no metabolic "machinery" for elongating medium to long chain fatty acids for building membranes and such. All but the longest MCFA -- that might find itself "accidentally" incorporated into a chylomicron bound triglyceride -- are shunted directly to the liver to be metabolized upon arrival. This is why they are ketogenic, as their rapid metabolism generates acetyl CoA faster than it can be used so it is converted to ketones and released into circulation for ... fuel. But nutrition? Forgettahbout it.
Now, there's nothing wrong with this. But why is eating a rapidly digested starch or sugar necessarily inferior? nThe answer is, they are not. They are "calories". I think this explains, however, the addiction many in the IHC seem to have for their version of quick energy. MCT are like carbs for carbophobes ;-) In all seriousness, there are few if any high carbers who recommend folks grab a spoon of sugar or choose a Coke for quick energy, but there are innumerable examples in the IHC of "swigging" or downing a tablespoon or so of CO and it is often times suggested for energy. Yep... empty calories.
As to the other magical powers of coconut oil, such as antimicrobial or whatever properties, well (hat tip to @UrbanAntonio on Twitter): Pouring granulated sugar on wounds 'can heal them faster than antibiotics' Cue the Def Leppard!
... removes tongue from cheek ...