Coconut oil seems to have grown in popularity lately. They are readily available by the bucket load in most shops and is advertised as being extremely beneficial. Where has it been hiding all this time and is it really as good as it is made out to be?
Coconut oil is made up of two kinds of fats. Long chain fats which have 12-18 carbon links and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which have 6-10 carbon links. The hype around coconut oil probably stems from the fact that it has up to 65% MCTs, and these have been linked to health benefits. These include better satiety and weight loss since they provide 10% less energy than long chain fats. They are also more rapidly absorbed and metabolized.
However, the MCT that makes up 48% of the fat, lauric acid, is a disputed one as it has 12 carbon links. The true MCTs in coconut oil, caprylic and capric acids, only make up 14%. This means that the majority of the fat found in coconut oil is saturated and has the potential to raise LDL cholesterol leading to heart complications. Coconut oil has been marketed in that it is fat-burning, brain-boosting, clears head lice, heals wounds, good for bone health and a good alternative to sunscreen. Since it has been claimed to be a “superfood” people tend to use it in excessive amounts. Any fat used in large amounts could cause weight gain since fat is a concentrated source of energy.
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The science around coconut oil mostly seems to be inconclusive with no concrete guidelines in place. And since we strive to practice evidence based nutrition, we shouldn’t go crazy and start adding coconut oil to everything. Rather control your saturated fat intake and use healthier oils such as olive and canola oil that do not contribute to heart disease.