Coconut is everywhere with products like coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil and coconut-based deserts infiltrating grocery shelves from health food stores to national chains like Wal-Mart. What’s all the buzz about?
Proponents of coconut oil claim that this “superfood” can boost your immune system, fight heart disease, and prevent cancer and HIV. The truth is there are very few clinical research studies to support these claims.
What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of coconuts. It is the most saturated of all fats, containing 92% saturated fat – that’s 10 times the saturated fat of canola oil. Most saturated fats, including those found in animal products like meat and dairy, are solid at room temperature. Coconut oil can be solid, semi-solid, or liquid depending on room temperature.
Pure Virgin Coconut Oil has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and detectable smell. It has not been hydrogenated and is therefore trans fat-free.
Hydrogenated Coconut Oil has undergone hydrogenation, a process that converts unsaturated fats to saturated fats and results in the creation of trans fats.
Refined Coconut Oil, often abbreviated on labels as “RBD,” (refined, bleached and deodorized) has no taste or aroma. RBD coconut oil may or may not be hydrogenated.
Health Concerns and Recommendations:
Coconut oil may be mostly saturated fat, but unlike saturated fats from animal sources, it is cholesterol-free. It also contains a high amount of medium-chain fatty acids, primarily lauric acid, which proponents argue has a beneficial effect of increased HDL (AKA “good”) cholesterol. However, these fats also increase LDL (AKA “bad”) cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Trans fats present in hydrogenated coconut oil also increase LDL cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.
The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 10% of total daily calories from saturated fatty acids and reducing intake of calories from solid fats.
So what’s the bottom line?
Remember that no one food is a miracle-worker or cure-all. Enjoy coconut oil in moderation if you like, but choose heart-healthy unsaturated oils, including canola and olive oil, more often.