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Coconut Oil: Is it Too Good to be True?

Submitted By Anna Huffman

Edited By Marcia Bristow MS RDN CD CSSD

There has been a lot of hype recently about the supposed health benefits of coconut oil. Claims have been made that it has powerful medicinal properties. It has even been alleged to help with weight loss and protect against heart disease.2 But is it too good to be true?

Of all oils, coconut oil contains the highest amount of saturated fat, accounting for approximately 90% of its calories from fat.2,3 That’s even higher than butter. It is also what makes coconut oil solid at room temperature.4 It also contains a large amount of another kind of fat known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).3 MCTs are used differently by the body than other fats and oils. They are quickly used as fuel and are less likely to end up stored as fat.4 For this reason, many of coconut oil’s health claims have to do with MCTs.

Given how MCT’s are used by the body, you might think coconut oil would aid weight loss. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support this. Very few studies have looked at the effect of coconut oil on weight loss, and their results have been inconclusive. Studies looking at the effect of pure MCT oil on weight loss have shown modest effects.2

Coconut oil also is claimed to be better for your heart than other fats and oils. Current guidelines suggest we get about 20-35% of our daily calories from fat, and only 7-10% from saturated fat.3,4 That’s about 15-22 grams, or 140-200 calories per day for a 2000 calorie diet. To put that into perspective, one tablespoon of butter has 7 grams of saturated fat, but one tablespoon of coconut oil has 12 grams— about as much as what’s in a half cup serving of ice cream. Saturated fat has been shown to raise HDL, the “good” cholesterol, but it also raises LDL, the “bad” cholesterol.4 The research suggests coconut oil has little advantage over other saturated fats, and experts recommend using coconut oil sparingly.2,3,4

While coconut oil can be a part of a healthy diet in modest amounts, don’t expect to improve your health by replacing other fats with coconut oil.5 After all, it’s still a saturated fat, and should be treated like one— used sparingly as part of an overall healthy eating pattern.

References

 

  1.  Coconut Oil: Health Benefits, Nutritional Breakdown, Risks – Medical News Today. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/282857.php. Accessed May 22, 2016.
  2.  Schardt D. Coconut oil. Nutr Action Heal. 2012;(June):10-11.
  3.  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. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.11.001.
  4.  If You’ve Replaced Olive Oil with Coconut Oil, You Must Read This – Stone Soup – January 2016. http://www.foodandnutrition.org/Stone-Soup/January-2016/If-Youve-Replaced-Olive-Oil-with-Coconut-Oil-You-Must-Read-This/. Accessed April 10, 2016.
  5.  Fact Sheet: Coconut Oil and Health – IFIC Foundation – Your Nutrition and Food Safety Resource. http://www.foodinsight.org/CoconutOilAndHealth. Accessed April 10, 2016.

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