There seems to be a lot of news out there about coconut oil with rumors that it is a miracle weight loss cure, can help prevent Diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, Alzheimer’s and so much more. But should you go run to the store and stock up or is more research needed?
Like most trendy foods, coconut oil has gone through phases labeled as the worst possible food and then later as a miracle food. We are currently in the superfood stage. The form of coconut oil used today is much healthier than it was in the 70’s when it was dubbed the worst. Now it is produced in a purer, generally unprocessed and healthier form compared to when it was produced in a hydrogenated form which helped increase shelf life but was very unhealthy for you. But is it really that healthy for you even now?
Coconut oil comes from the nut or fruit of the coconut and is 90 percent saturated fat (which is even higher than butter at 64 percent). Saturated fat is usually found in animal fats and tropical oils and is one of the unhealthier fats. Many saturated fats raise LDL or your bad cholesterol, which is the main target when treating heart disease- you want a low LDL, so you limit saturated fat in the diet. Unsaturated fat, found in vegetable oils, fish oils and plants like nuts and avocados, is a healthier option. Unsaturated fats may lower or not affect your LDL, but will raise your HDL or good cholesterol. This is why unsaturated fats are preferred over saturated fats. Coconut oil falls into the saturated fat category. However, it does have a unique property as a saturated fat because while it does raise your LDL, it also raises your HDL.
While raising your LDL, coconut oil also adds a lot of calories to your diet with 117 per tablespoon paired with 13.6 grams of fat. So far, major health organizations like the American Heart Association and the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines have not backed coconut oil. Instead, they recommend using healthier unsaturated fats (like olive oil) and limiting saturated fats to 7-10 percent of calories in the diet since they do increase the risk of heart disease.
However, coconut oil is not all bad. As mentioned earlier, it does raise your HDL because of the high levels of medium-chain triglycerides. Medium-chain triglycerides are easy to digest and convert into energy quickly which makes them a good choice for athletes. Coconut oil also has an unusual blend of short and medium fatty acids that may offer some health benefits, but more targeted research is necessary. Coconut oil adds a nice flavor when cooking and may be a good option for vegans as a butter substitute, since it does not contain animal products. Overall more scientific research is needed before it is used as a preventative cure for diseases.
So the ruling on coconut oil? It is fine in moderation, but do not expect big health results, as there is not enough scientific research to support the many health claims out there.
It may be best to use it on your body, rather than in your body, for now.