Confused About Coconut Oil?

Laura_Brieser-SmithCoconut oil has been touted as a “miracle” food that will help overcome all sorts of health problems. But is there any truth to the hype?

It is important to remember that coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which typically is associated with clogging arteries. However, research studies done on coconut oil have yielded mixed results. Several studies conducted on people in Indonesia, the Philippines and India (where coconut products are consumed regularly) have shown no increase in heart disease. Other research has shown that increased coconut oil consumption leads to reduced cholesterol production, less oxidation (hardening) of LDL cholesterol, and better ability to break up blood clots. All of these effects are associated with reduction in heart disease risk. Scientists theorize that the saturated fat from plant products act on the human body differently than those from animal products, causing coconut to be much healthier for the heart. Despite all this, health experts are still cautious about recommending that patients replace unsaturated oils, such as canola and olive oils, with coconut oil.

Weight loss is another supposed benefit of coconut oil. In theory the type of fat in coconut oil could cause people to lose weight. Coconut oil contains mostly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs act differently than most other fats because they are transported directly from the intestine to the liver where they are burned off as fuel rather than being stored. This also raises the metabolism slightly, allowing more calories to be burned. However, the effects are quite small. Most research has shown that coconut oil promotes only modest weight loss and decreases waist size slightly.
Finally, coconut oil has been proposed as a cure for AlzheimerÕs disease. Many individuals have given testimony about their loved ones remembering dates, times, people after being given a dose of coconut oil. One theory is that in the beginning stages of AlzheimerÕs the brain is less able to use glucose as energy. By providing more MCTs the brain can use this as energy. Unfortunately, well conducted research studies have not been able to replicate these results.

The bottom line on coconut oil at this point is that it is not the miracle cure for diseases. Feel free to enjoy fresh coconut and cooking with the oil can bring a delicious flavor to foods. However, do not go out of your way to include large amounts in your diet. Also, remember that each tablespoon contains 120 calories, so large amounts can significantly increase your calorie intake.


Laura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at hlthydsign at aol dot com.

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