I am always posed with questions about coconut oil – is it better than insert oil here? can it really cure insert condition here? We are often hearing about new ailments this fat can “cure.” Coconut oil flies off the shelves with most of the public considering it a health food and some claiming it as a miracle food that will help you lose weight, cure diabetes, prevent Alzheimers and so on. Unfortunately there is no solid evidence to claim that coconut oil will help with any of these.
Not that you should be going into your cupboards and throwing away your coconut oil, there is still much to discover about this oil! It can be part of a healthy diet that is high in other heart-healthy foods, fibre, vegetables, fruit and low in processed foods. You’ll notice I also use coconut oil in some recipes as part of my healthy diet and lifestyle (plus I love the flavour!). Overall, I choose to incorporate oils rich in healthy fats (mono- and polyunsatured) more often. Here’s why:
First a little recap on Types of Fats
Saturated Fats – known as “unhealthy” fats are naturally found in foods from animals (milk, cheese, meat) and tropical oils (coconut and palm oils). Excess saturated fats may increase bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and therefore increase risk of heart disease.
Trans Fats– are manufactured fats that are made from changing a liquid oil into a solid fat for shelf life purposes in many commercially baked goods, fried and convenience foods. Trans fats are unhealthy and can increase your LDL cholesterol and decrease you good (HDL) cholesterol. * Natural sources of trans fats act differently in the body than the manufactured fat.
Unsaturated Fats – are know as the “healthy” fats. Oils that contain unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled. There are 2 types of unsaturated fats:
polyunsaturated fats – include the well known essential fatty acids including Omega 3 fats found in foods such as salmon, mackerel, trout, walnuts, and flax; as well as Omega 6 fats found in plant oils and certain nuts and seeds.
mono-unsaturated fats– are a well known heart healthy fat found in olives, olive oil, canola oil, avocados, almonds, pecans and pistachios.
Research promotes replacing saturated fats (ex. butter, lard, milk fats, cheese, cream) in the diet with unsaturated fats (ex. vegetable oils, canola, olive, avocado) to help decrease the risk of heart disease.
So what’s all this hype about coconut oil which is mostly a saturated fat? Here is what you should know:
Coconut oil is over 90% saturated fat. Research has shown that coconut oil may increase good cholesterol (HDL) however it also increased bad cholesterol (LDL). Coconut oil has been shown to have less effect on LDL than butter and lard. More research needs to be done here to see the influence on the overall risk of heart disease.
Coconut oil provides 8.3 kcal/gram whereas other fats provide 9 kcal/gram. There is however no concrete evidence to recommend coconut oil as a weight loss aid. It is still 117-120 kcal for 1 Tbsp of coconut oil!
Coconut oil’s Medium Chain Triglyceride concentration is mostly C12 and only about 15% is C8-C10. (C-what!? MCT?). Medium Chain Triglycerids (MCTs) are fatty acids that have carbon lengths of 6 to 12. There are short, medium, and long chain fatty acids. MCTs are more rapidly absorbed and burned for energy than long chain -research shows health benefits of MCTs in the diet, however, they have been found with C8 – C10 MCTs. Coconut oil actually has a lower concentration of these particular MCTs so the benefits may not be linked to coconut oil. Read more about this in an article found in Today’s Dietitian here.
There is a lack of consistent evidence for the benefits of coconut oil. While it may not have any negative effects, it cannot currently be recommended as an alternative to unsaturated fats and non-hydrogenated vegetable oils to promote heart health .
Even as a dietitian it is hard to depict between money grabs versus actual facts, because hey I’m human too so I have to make sure I settle my excitement and read into the evidence. Nutrition is always changing and we continue to learn so I don’t think it is a case to cut out coconut oil (and I only think coconut oil is a money grab when food industry tries to get you to buy less healthy foods by adding coconut oil to them – ex. commercial popcorn). Instead use coconut oil as well as unsaturated fats in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet.
Try coconut oil as part of your beauty routine hydrated healthy hydrated skin:
- makeup remover – place on cotton pad and while away!
- moisturizer – take a small amount and apply to freshly cleansed skin at night
Also I promised to share this recipe from my instagram feed (@nakedfacenutrition), which does include coconut oil! Enjoy.
I want to dedicate this post to my Grandma, Doreen Kress. She passed away this morning after a fight against dementia and heart disease. I love you Grandma, you are now an angel looking over us xox