TRUE OR FALSE: I should consume more coconut oil.
Written by Cheyenne Watts | Reviewed by Nikita Kapur MS, RDN, CDN, CLT
Coconut oil has been all the craze for the past few years. Not too long ago, it would have been quite a task to track down a bottle of this trendy oil, but now coconut oil is found in most supermarkets and health food stores. Coconut oil is well-known as a moisturizing treatment for hair and skin, and has been rumored to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and help with weight loss.
Sadly, these are merely rumors, and here is why:
Coconut Oil and Cardiovascular Disease
Coconut oil is made by pressing the fat from the white meat inside the coconut. About 84% of its calories come from saturated fat. (Comparatively, 14% of olive oil’s and 63% of butter’s calories are from saturated fat). The American Heart Association says to limit saturated fat to no more than 13 grams a day. That’s the amount found in about one tablespoon of coconut oil.
Your levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol also play a big role in the development, as well as the prevention, of cardiovascular disease. Remember the two types of cholesterol that we like to focus on in healthcare:
LDL -- helps form plaque that blocks your arteries (“bad” cholesterol)
HDL -- helps remove LDL (“good” cholesterol)
Coconut oil raises your LDL “bad” cholesterol when consumed in excess. Coconut oil has a higher composition of lauric acid which makes the triglycerides (fats) act more like a long chain fatty acid than like a medium-chain triglyceride (which is what most people believe). The lauric acid consumed in high amounts can increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
Coconut oil does have antioxidants, compounds that may help reduce the risk of disease. But you’ll likely get a bigger antioxidant bang for your buck from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Coconut Oil and Weight Loss
It is proven that MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) like the ones in coconut oil are processed by your body a little differently than other dietary fats in that more likely to burn off their calories than convert them to body fat. This has led some consumers to eat spoonful’s of coconut oil each day in an attempt to drop pounds quick.
But wait! Fat is fat, and coconut is high in calories. If you would like to add coconut oil to your diet, it would be wise to adjust another area of your diet to compensate for the added fat and calories.
So… What Now?
Coconut flesh, puree, and milk are more nutritionally beneficial for your body than the coconut oil alone. They contain more fiber than the oil, as well as additional proteins, vitamins and minerals (Manganese, Potassium and Copper). Coconut flour is another higher-fiber option that you can use when baking.
If weight loss is your goal, coconut oil consumption should be limited and compensated for in the rest of your diet. If you are at risk for CVD, try using olive oil instead of coconut oil as olive oil contains a lower composition of saturated fats. But, if you enjoy the taste of coconut oil, look for “virgin” and cold-pressed versions in your local health food store- they taste more tropical than the refined oils!