The world seems to be going crazy over coconuts! Coconut water, oil, butter, yoghurt – you name it and it’s probably on the market. Coconut oil in particular has been trending lately for its health claims to be good for your heart and help you to lose weight. But what if it’s not just a fad that will fade away as quickly as it came into our awareness? Could there be some truth behind it all? Here are the facts that you need to know:
Not the Best for Heart Health
Coconut oil has one of the highest saturated fat contents (~85-90%) of any oil. Although it has been shown to increase HDL levels (the good type of cholesterol), it also increases LDL (the bad type of cholesterol). Coconut oil has shown to affect total cholesterol levels to a lesser degree than butter, but to a greater extent than other plant oils.
Not Your Typical Medium Chain Fatty Acid
Coconut oil may offer some health benefits due to its unique profile of short and medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) of which lauric acid is most abundant. Typically MCFAs are easier to break down and digest than long or very long chain fatty acids and medium chain triglycerides may have a role in increasing metabolism. Contrary to this, studies are suggesting that when in the body, lauric acid tends to behave more like a long chain instead of a medium chain fatty acid, thereby negating some of the potential benefits.
Anti-inflammatory or Not?
The research is still out regarding whether or not coconut oil promotes or moderates inflammation. When looking at Pacific countries where consumption of coconut products (flesh or freshly squeezed) is a staple, population studies showed that rates of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease or diabetes were quite low. It also has to be noted that their typical lifestyle includes a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and seafood with plenty of physical activity. Similar population studies however were not able to be replicated in Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, or Africa.
With so many people putting their faith in the newest superfood, what should you do? My tips are:
- Everything in moderation. I’m not convinced that adding spoonfuls of coconut oil to your daily smoothie is the answer. Having a small amount on occasion, for example a teaspoon of coconut oil when cooking an Asian dish, may offer flavour and some health benefits.
- Fat is still fat. Good fat or bad fat, having too much will increase your kilojoule intake and can contribute to weight gain.
- Think of your hip pocket. The cost of coconut oil is becoming exorbitant while there are other oils on the market, particularly plants oils that have been shown to offer much greater health benefits at a more affordable price.