coconut oil…yes or no?


I’ve been putting off writing this post because I suffered through biochemistry once and that’s enough for one lifetime!  However, I get asked constantly about coconut oil and I promised I would explain!

Coconut oil has been a hot topic lately.  Outrageous claims have been made that it will boost metabolism, accelerate weight loss, decrease inflammation, prevent Alzhiemer’s Disease and make you immune to the common cold.  Can this be true?  The jury is still out.  There is not enough scientific research to support these health claims, but the research has just begun and I for one am very excited to learn more about this “magical” oil!

Coconut oil has been labeled “dangerous” since the health claim was made that diets high in saturated fat are detrimental to heart health.  This is a contriversal topic that needs to be addressed in another post however, many doctors are taking a different stance on the actual cause of heart disease.  Many studies are being conducted that show saturated fat after all may not be the sole culprit of heart disease.  For years and years many cultures such as the Polynesians have consumed high quantities of coconut oil daily and do not have the incidence of heart disease that Americans have.

So, what DO we know about coconut oil?

Coconut oil is  a MCT (medium chain fatty acid).  Fatty acids are categorized by how many carbon atoms they  hold (short, medium or long).  Fatty acids are important sources of fuel, when broken down in the body they provide large quantities of ATP.  (Oh no, I went there…remember the Krebs cycle from Biochemistry 101???  Yes, it makes me want to bash my head against the wall too!)  ATP transports chemical energy within our cells for metabolism.  Our heart and skeletal muscles prefer fatty acids over carbohydrates as a source of energy.  The beautiful thing about MCTs or coconut oil is that unlike short and long chain triglycerides, MCTs travel from the GI tract directly to the liver and are instantly burned as fuel instead of stored as fat.  Most vegetable oils and animal fats are comprised of long chain fatty acids which are difficult to break down and are stored as fat.  This is where the weight loss and increased metabolism claims come into play.

Coconut oil is one of the only foods other than breast milk that contain Lauric Acid.  The body converts Lauric Acid into monolaurin, which is an antiviral, antibacterial and immunity booster.  Hence, the magical cure all health claims!

Studies show that coconut oil raises the good (HDL) cholesterol.  Sadly, it also raises the bad (LDL) cholesterol.  Research is inconclusive on whether or not coconut oil is good or bad for cholesterol levels.

Promising studies are presenting coconut oil or MCTs to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  Unfortunately, more research needs to be done before an accurate health claim can be made.

Bottom Line:

Our bodies need some saturated fat for the proper function of hormones and upkeep of cell membranes.  The USDA recommends that saturated fat should not exceed 10% of total fat calories.

Personally, I love using it!  I cook with it, I bake with it, I even add it to smoothies and my morning coffee or tea.  It provides me with “staying power”  and increased energy throughout the day.  However, this is coming from someone who gets very little saturated fat in my daily diet.  The problem is that the SAD (Standard American Diet) is comprised of mostly processed foods and high levels of unhealthy saturated fat.  A person who consumes the SAD would have no room in their diet for coconut oil.  It’s important to replace the less healthy saturated or trans fats with coconut oil.  THE KEY IS TO REPLACE, NOT ADD!

I hesitate to make a broad statement recommending coconut oil to all however, for most a small amount is safe to use.  The best type to use is virgin “cold-pressed” coconut oil. Stay away from foods that use hydrogenated coconut oil.

Coconut oil lends a subtle “nutty” flavor to foods and does not leave you with a heavy aftertaste as with other oils.  Make some room for it in your diet and try it out!

What’s your take on using coconut oil?