Consumers have begun to embrace the potential health-promoting effects of coconut oil and sales of these products have sky-rocketed over the last year! But is coconut oil really that healthy for you? Ohhhh do we have the healthy scoop for you…
Coconut oil consumption has traditionally been discouraged since is one of the richest sources of saturated fat you can find on the market. About 90% of the calories in coconut oil come from saturated fat, which has been somewhat unfairly demonized over the last few decades. However, new more convincing evidence clearly shows that the association between saturated fat intake and heart disease is much smaller (or even absent) than previously thought.
The main reason coconut oil has become so popular is that it contains a unique composition of healthy fatty acids, particularly medium chain triglycerides.
Medium chain triglycerides found in coconut oil have been shown to boost metabolism and promote healthy weight loss. Here is the catch… the studies showing beneficial effects on weight loss were conducted with a “designer oil” containing 100% medium chain triglycerides, while most commercial products contain only 13-15%. The same benefits have not been replicated or shown even to a lesser extent in regular commercial products. It’s important to read labels and know which coconut oil you are purchasing. Over consuming coconut oil can lead to excessive calorie intake that negates the beneficial boost in metabolism.
Note: You can also purchase pure medium chain triglyceride oil, commonly referred to as “MCT oil”.
Consuming medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil has also been shown to reduce your appetite causing you to consume fewer calories. Substituting other oils for coconut oil when cooking seems to be both a tasty and healthful option. The main benefit of coconut oil is likely for frying foods. Coconut oil is highly stable at extremely high temperatures, which means it is less likely to break down and produce free radicals during cooking as compared to other oils.
Aside from weight loss, a small study of 40 women found that consuming coconut oil on a regular basis decreased both total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol (i.e., your bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL-cholesterol (i.e., your good cholesterol). That makes sense given that South Pacific populations who consume over 60% of their calories from coconuts show no evidence of heart disease.
Coconut oil is also commonly used because it one of the richest dietary sources of lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride which has been suggested to promote cognition and healthy brain function. Most of the fatty acids in the diet are long-chain triglycerides, but medium-chain triglycerides, like those found in coconut oil are metabolized differently. They go directly to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick energy source or converted into ketones, which have been shown to exert therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Another common application is using coconut oil like a mouthwash in a process called oil pulling, which can kill some harmful bacteria in the mouth, improving dental health and reducing bad breath. Mouthwash is likely more effective but using coconut oil certainly can’t hurt… just make sure you hold it in your mouth for at least two minutes.
The bottom line: emerging evidence suggests that using coconut oil is healthy but spooning it onto everything you eat won’t help you meet your health goals. Limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily calorie intakes. For most individuals that’s about 200 calories or a little less than 2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day.