Skip to main content

The Coconut Controversy

By: Callie Pillsbury on Aug 4, 2016 11:00:00 AM
cocnut_oil.png

For years, saturated fat has been avoided because of its relationship with heart disease. The tide has turned, and now coconut oil is the new “superfood.” It is the new type of fat that is promoted for weight loss, heart health, and everything else under the sun. Coconut oil is now found at local health food stores and supermarkets. People fry and bake with it. Some even put it on their skin and hair! Coconut oil is now being thought of as a “healthy” fat.  However, it is over 90% saturated! This is more saturated than butter and meats!  Why have people started to use coconut oil? And is it going to help you lose weight and prevent heart disease?

FACTS

  • Coconut oil contains more than 90% saturated fat./li>
  • Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).
  • Coconut oil is naturally derived

ADVOCATES

Weight loss.
MCTs are absorbed faster by the body and are quickly metabolized, thus they slightly increase the metabolic rate. This MCTs aretransported from the intestinal tract to the liver. In the liver, they are burned off as fuel. The body does not store MCTs as fat, rather they are quickly used as energy. This boost in metabolism allows a person to burn more calories and lose weight. People believe that coconut oil can also reduce appetite, with the result of weight loss over time. The reason is that when MCTs are handled in the body, ketones are formed. Ketones have been thought to reduce hunger and cravings. However, there is limited scientific research to this theory.  

Heart health.
Again with the MCT. Coconut oil has been promoted for heart health because the MCTs in coconut oil has less of an effect on the bad LDL levels than other saturated fats. The main source of the saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid. Lauric acid has been found to increase the good HDL.  About 48% of the fatty acid composition of coconut oil is lauric acid (1).

OPPONENTS

Weight loss.
Opponents exclaim that advocates went too far with the extensive amount of MCTs in coconut oil. The fact is that coconut oil does not only consist of MCTs. The composition of coconut oil is roughly 60% MCT and 40 % long chain triglycerides (LCT).

There was a study that was completed on the effects of weight loss when subjects substituted coconut oil for soybean oil. Subjects in both groups also decreased their caloric intake by 200 calories a day. The results ended the same. The group that used coconut oil and the group that used soybean oil lost the same amount of weight. There is no good evidence to suggest the use of coconut oil to assist with weight loss. Similar to other oils, coconut oil is extremely high in calories. It provides 120 calories per tablespoon! People should not be consuming coconut oil in large quantities in hopes that they will lose weight.  Coconut oil is a fat, and fats contain an abundance of calories. Extra calories will prompt the body to store the calories as fat, even if the stored fat does not come directly from the coconut oil.

Heart Health.
As for coconut oil being good for the heart, remember that coconut oil is over 90 % saturated fat! Even though it contains MCTs which might raise HDL, the enormous amount of saturated fat will increase the bad LDL. Coconut oil has a higher percentage of saturated fat than butter, beef, and lard.  The American Heart Association (AHA) does not recommend the use of coconut oil since it is so high in saturated fat. The AHA continuously recommends to limit saturated fats to less than 13 grams a day. One tablespoon of coconut oil contains 12 grams of saturated fat, coconut oil should not be recommended for heart health (2).

THE BOTTOM LINE

There is no scientific evidence that states that coconut oil will help weight loss or heart disease.

  • If you like the nutty flavor or just enjoy cooking coconut oil go ahead and use it. But just as for every other food, consume it in moderation.
  • Limit saturated fat intake to 10% of your daily calories.
  • Coconut oil has the same amount of calories as all other fats – 120 calories per tablespoon

Citations

  1. Gunnars, Kris, and | Bsc. “10 Proven Health Benefits of Coconut Oil.” Authority Nutrition, July 8, 2013. https://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/.
  1. “Is Coconut Oil Healthy or Hazardous?” Forks Over Knives, July 7, 2015. http://www.forksoverknives.com/is-coconut-oil-healthy-or-hazardous/.