With so much information available on the Internet, it’s hard to decipher whether the information is credible or not. Especially when it comes to nutrition or health claims, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. You can virtually validate any health claim you have via Google. For example, you can find articles stating caffeine is good for your heart and articles claiming caffeine will give you cancer within the same search. So whom can you trust?
It seems that coconut has become the new “Super Food” – it’s trendy and claims to promote heart health. Consumers are cooking with the oil, and even spreading it on their toast like butter. But what does the research say about the health benefits of this oil?
A recent meta-analysis that reviewed 21 research papers containing health claims about coconut oil was reviewed. The article was published in the Journal of Nutrition Reviews in March of 2016. According to its’ findings, coconut oil is made up of 92% saturated fatty acids, similar to the makeup of animal fat, palm oil, and butter – all of which are scientifically proven to raise cholesterol. Some profess that coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) – meaning it is more easily absorbed into the body and does not require bile to break it down – essentially a MCT is better for your metabolism. However, based on the average weight of triglycerides found in coconut oil compared to the average weight of a MCT, coconut’s triglycerides exceed the weight range. This means coconut oil’s triglycerides cannot be categorized as 100% MCT – debunking the myth that coconut oil is good for your metabolism.
Consumption of coconut oil has been shown to increase LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol when it replaces other plant oils such as olive oil or canola oil. Coconut oil does, however, show to be better for LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol when compared to butter. In the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics client education for “Heart Healthy Eating Nutrition Therapy”, coconut oil is even listed under the “Foods Not Recommended” category.
The moral of the story is not all fats are created equal. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are shown to be heart healthy, while saturated or trans fat increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil is a saturated fat; therefore it should be consumed with caution, especially if an individual has a history of cardiovascular disease or high cholesterol. Better options for cooking oils include olive, canola, or peanut oil. Other healthy fat substitutes include natural nut butters or avocados.
Although bad for you heart, coconut oil has been shown to be great for topical uses to the skin and hair for it’s moisturizing effects!
Post contributed by Bari Stricoff, Dietetic Intern
Eyres L, Eyres M, Chisholm A, Brown R. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutr Rev. 2016;74(4):267-280. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuw002.
Heart-Healthy Eating Nutrition Therapy. 1st ed. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; :1-6. Available at: http://file:///Users/astricoff/Downloads/Client-Ed-Heart-Healthy-Eating-Nutrition-Therapy.pdf. Accessed April 9, 2016.