This is the debate that goes on in my household at least once a month. So let’s do a little research and get this one straight.
FACT 1: coconut oil is approx 60% medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). It has 11 grams of saturated fat in 1 tablespoon (shit bro!), of which you’ll get 7.9 grams of MCTs. (source).
FACT 2: The major fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, which has been known for decades to raise total blood cholesterol in humans.
FACT 3: Currently, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organisation advise against the consumption of high amounts of coconut oil due to its high levels of saturated fat.
There is conflicting evidence about the health effects of coconut oil. Some research has showed a few positive effects – for example, studies on rats showed a high MCT diet led to more weight loss than a high lard or high LCT (long chain triglyceride) diet (source). Meaning not all saturated fats are equal.
Additionally, while lauric acid raises the total cholesterol, its actually mainly the HDL fraction it raises, which is thought to be the protective component.
Aha! So perhaps coconut oil is healthy, after all? Not so fast.
Increasing HDL cholesterol is a good thing, as evidence suggests it helps prevent cardiovascular disease. BUT increasing saturated fat in the diet may impair the function of HDL – so, we are better off raising our HDL from consuming unsaturated oil products – like olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish and olives.
As it stands, more research needs to be done to ascertain if the proposed health benefits have any merit whatsoever. Until that day, I would be very wary about pouring coconut oil onto everything you consume. Its still a saturated fat – and these should be consumed in small amounts.
I’ve seen some pretty drastic claims – that it’s some kind of miracle cure-all. How did all this hype come about? Can so many people really be wrong? All one has to do is look at how many people eat nutrition-less cereal and milk for breakfast and there is your answer. Two words: Marketing. Money.
But it certainly makes a good massage oil.