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Coconut oil….is it really that healthy?

coconut oilCoconut oil has become very popular over the years due to its so-called health benefits. But in truth, there is not enough research regarding consumption of coconut oil to make health claims. This highly saturated oil is 44% lauric acid and 16% myristic acid, which are both hypercholesterolemic (meaning that it raises total cholesterol). Although coconut oil has been shown to raise the good cholesterol HDL, it also raises the bad cholesterol, LDL. Therefore consumption of coconut oil to raise HDL cholesterol is not necessarily beneficial.

Research can be very confusing and all aspects of a study should be considered before making health claims, which most non-reputable websites fail to do. (Such as the ones that pop up after “googling”). For example, most of the claims being made for coconut oil are based on research using medium chain triglycerides that are 8 and 10 carbon chains in length, which are not the predominant fatty acids found in coconut oil. To further break this down, you may hear that medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are good for you and that coconut oil is a rich source of MCT’s, however the MCT’s that are being researched, and claimed to be good for you, are different than those found in coconut oil. 

 
There's no strong data or evidence that coconut oil is better or worse for you than any other sources of saturated fat. There have been strong and consistent data regarding the recommended intake of saturated fat and I think that should be the main focus. No more than seven percent of your total daily calories should come from saturated fats, according to the American Heart Association. Therefore, a 2,000 calorie diet would have a saturated fat limit of 16 grams, or 140 calories from saturated fat. One tablespoon of coconut oil provides 12 grams per tablespoon, this is almost a whole day’s worth of saturated fat! Coconut oil has more saturated fat than both lard and beef tallow. Something else to consider is that many coconut oil products are highly processed and refined. Using the less processed (virgin) oils is a better choice, as the fatty acids will be closer to their original form, and the oil will contain more phytonutrients

When it comes to fat, substitute unhealthy saturated and trans fats (hydrogenated oil) for healthy fats as much as possible. Sources of healthy fats include salmon, tuna, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, (any nuts and seeds) avocado, canola oil and olive oil. Take home message:

  • Although many non-reputable websites state that coconut oil helps reduce inflammation, there is not enough clear research to verify this statement at this time.

  • Coconut oil is not a healthier substitute for butter, olive oil or canola oil.

  • Coconut oil does not aid in weight loss. 

  • Coconut is a pure fat, therefore very energy dense at 130 calories per tablespoon. 

  • Coconut oil is loaded with saturated fat, at 12g per tablespoon.

 

Blog post provided by:
Katie Foster, RDN, LD,
Nutrition Services
Hannibal Regional

Sources:

Vannice G, Rasmussen H. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: dietary fatty acids for healthy adults. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(1):136-153.

By Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD, LD. Saturated Fat: Not So Bad or Just Bad Science? N.p., n.d. Web. 

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp#.V8nIClJTHcs

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good


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