How Coconut Oil Transformed One Boy’s Health—And Inspired a New Kind of Potato Chip

July 20, 2016
by Annalise Mantz for Thrive Market
How Coconut Oil Transformed One Boy’s Health—And Inspired a New Kind of Potato Chip

“The story begins and ends with our son Jackson,” says Megan Reamer.

The oldest of four siblings, Jackson seemed like a perfectly healthy boy until his second birthday. Gradually, he started showing signs of muscle weakness, first in one foot, then the other, until he could no longer walk or stand. He became sicker and sicker, losing weight and suffering through painful stomachaches.

Megan and her husband Scott took Jackson to doctor after doctor, none of whom could figure out what was making him so ill. By the age of 5 he was in a wheelchair. Willing to try anything, the Reamers started experimenting with the only thing they could control: Jackson’s diet. They began watching what he ate—if a food made his symptoms worse, they’d eliminate it.

As soon as Jackson started eating grass-fed meats, saturated fats like coconut oil, and other anti-inflammatory foods (similar to what’s now known as the Paleo diet), his parents noticed an immediate change. He finally started gaining weight, and his gastrointestinal symptoms disappeared. Now, Jackson is 15 years old, and though he’s still confined to a wheelchair, he’s improved more than his parents ever hoped.

In 2014, nearly 12 years after he first started showing symptoms, Jackson was finally diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder. Doctors also confirmed what the Reamers suspected all along: that changing their son’s diet was exactly what he needed to start feeling better. By that point, Jackson wasn’t the only one in the family with new eating habits. As the Megan and Scott learned more about the benefits of healthy fats, they got on board, too.

“What we were eating and which fats we were using—those things mattered so desperately to us that we were basically making everything from scratch,” Megan says.

Scott, who studied chemical engineering in college, started researching how fats work in the body and realized that the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats goes right down to their molecular structure. The type of bonds in unsaturated fats—like olive oil or canola oil—break down rapidly when they’re exposed to light or heat. This creates free radicals—molecules that can damage cells and even lead to disease. The bonds in saturated fats, like coconut oil, hold up better. And for Jackson, that meant everything.

“You or I can eat a lot of canola oil ... [and it might] take 10, 20, 30, 40 years in the body to cause problems,” Scott says. “With Jackson, anything we gave him that had an inflammatory reaction, we knew within hours. We saw firsthand how [unhealthy fats] can affect someone who is very, very sensitive to these types of inflammatory molecules.”

That experience changed the Reamers’ food philosophy forever—and eventually, inspired them to start their own business. One day, Megan says, they “were eating this strict diet and craving something crunchy and snack-like, and we couldn’t find anything on the shelf that was like that.” So they fried a slice of sweet potato in coconut oil, keeping the heat low to prevent toxins from forming. The taste? Mind-blowing. Right away, the Reamers knew they were onto something. They started selling their handmade chips at their local health food store, and their company—Jackson’s Honest Potato Chips—was born.

Even now that Jackson’s Honest chips are available all over the world, each bag is still cooked using the same “low and slow” technique that Megan first tried at home. Even though coconut oil has a smoke point of 350 degrees, Jackson’s Honest only heats it to a maximum of 275 degrees. That means all those healthy fatty acids remain intact and free radicals don’t have the chance to form. As Scott puts it, “The same fat molecule you would get if you ate that raw piece of coconut meat is the exact same fat molecule in our potato chips.”

Today, Jackson’s Honest has expanded beyond the original sweet potato chips, with other great-tasting varieties: purple heirloom, sea salt, or sea salt and vinegar—all with those same benefits of coconut oil. The brand also sources only non-GMO potatoes from either organic or biodynamic farms—meaning, as salty snacks go, these are better for you and the earth. And if Jackson approves, that’s good enough for us.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

Read more about Jackson's Honest Potato Chips here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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