Coconut oil: should this be on your plate?


In the kitchen, some don’t think twice when stirring an extra tablespoon of solid coconut oil into their cooking. When 1 tbsp. has the same amount of unhealthy saturated fat as 4.5 mini squares of Lindt’s 85% dark chocolate, and many I know don’t stop at 1 tbsp. of coconut oil, how can it be the miracle worker that advertisements claim?

Do a Google search and what do you get? Coconut oil cures cancer, diabetes, heart disease, makes your hair silky, and clears your face of acne. Sounds like a busy oil.

Digging a little deeper into these claims, we find that they’re just that: claims.

The idea is similar to that of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is high in saturated fat, but its type  of saturated fat (known as stearic acid) has actually been shown to be good for the heart. This is due to its content of antioxidants and how stearic acid does not increase your bad cholesterol (unlike other saturated fats). For coconut oil enthusiasts, they state that the oil’s types of saturated fat  (known as lauric and myristic acids) and its high amount of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). The scientific community notes that both lauric and myristic acids raise your bad cholesterol. Unlike longer-chain fats, the MCTs absorb directly into your bloodstream and are proposed by coconut oil supporters to increase metabolism, as they are burned more readily for energy. Overall, what do we know for sure about coconut oil?

  • It is more than 85% saturated fat: the type that increases your bad cholesterol (LDL-c) and heart disease
  • If you’re used to using butter, then switching to coconut oil may slightly decrease your LDL-c
  • If you’re used to using non-hydrogenated margarine or plant oils like canola or olive, you’re better off staying put

Dietitians educate to limit saturated fat in your diet as much as possible.

  • For the general public, this means less than 10% of your total calorie intake. For a 2,000 calorie diet this means 200 calories or 22 grams.
  • For those with a history of heart disease, this means 7% of your total calorie intake. For a 2,000 calorie diet this means 140 calories or 16 grams.

How much saturated fat do some common foods contain?

Overall, until we have a better understanding of coconut oil’s saturated fats and if they in are fact good for the body, continue with using non-hydrogenated margarines, avocado, unsalted nuts and seeds (and their natural butters), and plant oils like olive and canola oil. If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian and there really isn’t a ton of saturated fat in your diet, then small amounts of coconut oil should be fine. In this case, I would max out at 1 tbsp.

 Health Castle’s Summary:

Since little is known about coconut oil’s potential benefits, olive oil remains your heart healthy choice. Hundreds of scientific studies support olive oil, yet few exist to speak up for coconut. Until we know more, use coconut oil sparingly (or keep using it in your hair!).

RD Leslie Beck’s opinion

Harvard’s Opinion

Last updated on July 2, 2014


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