By: Annemarie Morrell, Winthrop University Nutrition Student
Many people have heard about the recent popularity of coconut oil and the health and beauty claims that are out there. Today I want to focus on the health claims of coconut oil and look at the scientific evidence behind these claims. The popularity has arisen from claims stating that coconut oil can aid in weight loss and have other health benefits. There are also claims of skin care benefits as well but in this blog we will be looking at the nutritional claims on the oil.
What is Coconut oil?
Coconut oil is derived from the fruit of the coconut palm containing medium-chain fatty acids. Around 52% to 85% of coconut oil is made of saturated fats, which are called medium-chain fatty acids. As some may know saturated fat is a type of dietary fat and it's one of the “bad” fats due to putting people at heart disease risk and weight gain. Too much saturated fat can cause cholesterol to build up in the arteries and it can raise your LDL cholesterol which is the “bad” cholesterol which then can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. You mainly want to stick to healthier fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which can be found in olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. The American Heart Association and the US dietary guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to around less than 10% of your total calories. Coconut oil has around 117 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. Coconut oil is a better choice than animal fat or trans fats but it's not going to be as heart healthy as olive oil or canola oils that have more monounsaturated fats. These monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke and they also provide nutrients to develop and maintain your body’s cells.
Cooking with Coconut oil
Since coconut oil’s structure is similar to butter in the sense that it's not as liquid as olive oil, when you're cooking or baking it doesn't break down, so this way you're going to get more of a flaky crust or crispy cookies. If you still are looking to cook with coconut oil of course everything is fine in moderation and you also want to look for a pure virgin coconut oil that isn't chemically processed or hydrogenated. Coconut oil is more stable than other oils when cooking at high temperatures but only a few degrees more than olive oil. Avocado oil has a higher cooking point than olive oil so it can be used to replace coconut oil.
To summarize, coconut oil like any oil should be used in moderation. Just be aware of the calories and nutritional value in coconut oil. When choosing an oil go for one that is higher in monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil. Unfortunately all of these claims that coconut oil offers health benefits have not been proven yet and there isn’t enough scientific evidence behind the statements. For an added bonus extra virgin olive oil has many health benefits including being minimally processed which gives it more nutritional value than plain olive oil, it is high in healthy plant nutrients called phytochemicals, can lower risk of heart disease, can help lower blood pressure, helps with inflammation, etc. When choosing an oil to cook with, to flavor foods, or to use as a dressing choose an oil that is higher in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated rather than saturated fats.
Ask a dietitian: Is coconut oil good for me? Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital. https://www.brighamandwomensfaulkner.org/programs-and-services/nutrition/articles/coconut-oil. Accessed October 17, 2022.
Coconut oil: Overview, uses, side effects, precautions, interactions, dosing and reviews. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1092/coconut-oil. Accessed October 17, 2022.
Pictures of health benefits of olive oil. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-of-olive-oil. Accessed October 20, 2022.