The nutrition world loves to debate about things. From saturated fat’s effect on heart disease to the existence of gluten sensitivity, there are always arguments going back and forth amongst professionals. And because I love a good debate as much as the next person, I thought I’d jump in with my two cents about one of the most hotly debated topics as of late: coconut oil.
That’s the big question everyone has been wondering these days: is coconut oil good for you?
Before I can answer that, I need to take a step back and look at the evidence. So you might have heard that coconut oil is a good source of a type of fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is correct. On average, coconut oil is made up of about 86-93% saturated fat with over 65% of that saturated fat being the medium chain kind (1).
These MCTs act differently in the body and get rapidly absorbed directly into the bloodstream, rather than going a lengthy route through our lymphatic system like other fats (2). From the blood, they go right to the liver where they tend to get oxidized rapidly rather than getting stored as fat (3).
So far this all sounds good, but what does it mean for our health?
Metabolism: MCTs may slightly increases metabolism, but the longest study on this was only several days long. MCTs may have no effect on metabolism over a longer time period (3).
Weight: Some studies showed that it may decrease waist circumference, and this was most evident in men. But the subjects ate a restricted diet and had 2 tbsp of coconut oil per day, which may not be realistic for some people (4). There are also some studies that show that coconut oil causes more weight loss compared to other fats (5), but the evidence for this is not consistent.
Cholesterol: Good news – coconut oil seems to increase your HDL cholesterol (that’s the good stuff)! It also raises LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) as well, but not as much as butter does (6).
Nutrition aside, one of the benefits of coconut oil is that it is a very stable fat and doesn’t tend to go rancid very easily. It also has a high smoke point, so it is better for higher temperature cooking like stir frying.
The bottom line: Coconut oil may not be the miracle oil that it’s promoted as in the media, but I think it definitely has a place in a healthy diet, especially for use in high temperature cooking. But I wouldn’t recommend using only coconut oil in your kitchen, because then you’d be missing out on the awesome benefits of other fats, like those in olive and flax oil. Like all aspects of our diet, I think a good balance is important!
Do you use coconut oil? What’s your favourite use for it?
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