As if the aisles of grocery stores weren't confusing enough, there's a new trend on the shelf: coconut oil.
Coconut products seem to be getting more attention than coconuts themselves. It seems to be one of the most asked questions I get these days. I’ve been curious myself about the stuff, and have even bought some to play with in my cooking. I keep saying I’m going to get to the bottom of this coconut oil business and Noor has helped me do some reasearch and give you the facts.
As I researched coconut oil, I was faced with a plethora of conflicting information. Some sources called coconut oil a superfood that will magically help me drop 50 pounds overnight; others purported it to be the devil. I left my attempt at research feeling more confused than I went in (not typically the goal of research).
I’m going to tell you the facts behind coconut oil, the good and the less favorable. Then we can come back and discuss what this research means.
Coconut oil is the dried fruit of coconut palm tree. It contains 117 calories and 13.6 grams of fat in one tablespoon. This is similar to the calorie and fat content of olive oil. However, the difference lies in the type of fat.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat. While I rarely use “scare tactics” in my nutrition education techniques, I will say that too much saturated fat in not good. It is often categorized as a “bad” fat, and it’s true. However, we do need some saturated fat and it’s impossible to avoid entirely. It is recommended that less than seven percent of your total energy intake can come from saturated fat.
11.8 grams of coconut oil's 13.6 total fat grams are saturated, which is higher than butter. So if you are consuming a 2,000 calorie diet, this means one tablespoon of coconut oil is going to give you almost an entire day’s worth of saturated fat. For comparison’s sake, olive oil has one gram of saturated fat.
But not all fat is created equal, or rather, reacts the same way in our bodies. Saturated fat got it’s negative reputation from research showing it tends to lower healthy HDL cholesterol and raise LDL, the less favorable cholesterol. The type of saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which increases total cholesterol levels. However, research suggests this increase is partially due to rises in HDL cholesterol and coconut oil doesn’t necessarily have a negative effect on cholesterol. Another study found lauric acid inhibited the production of stomach virus, suggesting lauric acid may have an anti-viral effect. Aside from this, all other claims of lauric acid benefits have little to no scientific evidence backing it up.
What about the crazy claims that coconut oil promotes massive weight loss, helps to cure Alzheimer’s disease or certain forms of cancer, or improves complexion? There isn’t any scientific evidence to back this up yet. I know, I’m disappointed, too.
Here are the take-home points about coconut oil that you need to know.
-Coconut oil is mostly saturated fat, so it’s probably not the best choice for those with high cholesterol or strong family history of heart disease. Until more research is done on this topic, it’s best to stay on the safe side.
-Coconut oil can be enjoyed in moderation. It has about the same amount of calories as most other types of fat. It has a unique flavor that is very enjoyable. There is no reason, however, to eat coconut oil straight-up daily, replace all other forms of fat with it, or feel like you HAVE to include it in your diet to be healthy, especially in large amounts (i.e. more than 1 tablespoon).
-When buying coconut oil, look at the label and try to steer clear of hydrogenated coconut oil. Hydrogenated coconut oil will contain trans-fat, which we should try to make nearly non-existent in our diets.
-If coconut oil isn’t your thing in food, perhaps consider it’s beauty uses. It can be used as an all-natural hair conditioner, a night cream, or as massaging oil.
Click here to read about another coconut trend, coconut water.