In recent years, coconut oil has been promoted as having all kinds of health benefits, such as helping people lose weight and strengthen their immune system. Its health benefits have been celebrated by fitness experts, wellness bloggers and health food stores. Many people believe in its health benefits, but despite all the hype, the scientific evidence to support the claims appears to be lacking.
The dangers of saturated fat
Many health organizations, such as the American Heart Foundation, have issued warnings about the use of coconut oil. They believe that as a saturated fatty acid, it raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and clogs up the arteries.
Recently, Harvard professor Dr. Karin Michels gave a speech about its dangers that went viral on YouTube. She said it is one of the worst foods you can eat. Many scientists, nutrition professors and dieticians agree that promoting coconut oil as a ‘good’ saturated fat is in the realm of fiction rather than fact.
Which fats does coconut oil contain?
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of coconuts and contains seven different kinds of fatty acids. Some of these are medium-chain fatty acids and some are long-chain fatty acids. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are easily absorbed and converted into energy. A study conducted in 2014 found that MCTs could increase satiety more than long-chain fatty acids. Because of its MCTs, coconut oil could apparently make you feel fuller for longer so you’d be less likely to snack.
Lauric acid, the main medium-chain fatty acid in coconut oil, does raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels, but there are also studies that show it raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels too.
Virgin coconut oil
Virgin coconut oil contains more phytochemicals than refined coconut oil, but even when you’re using extra-virgin oil, the experts believe that the effects of the saturated fat outweigh the beneficial effects of the antioxidants.
They believe that many people have fallen for clever marketing without paying attention to the scientific evidence. They say the evidence points out the dangers of saturated fat. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat and could raise cholesterol levels even more than some animal fats.
The main argument
The main argument against coconut oil is that saturated fat has been linked to an increase in LDL cholesterol levels.
Some recent research has questioned the claims about the dangers of saturated fats. It suggests that saturated fats raise HDL cholesterol and change LDL into a form where it’s a largely benign subtype with less risk of causing heart disease.
The bottom line
Coconut oil is not the miracle product some people believe it to be. However, it’s probably not problematic if used in moderation. It is also better to use virgin oil that has not gone through any chemical processing and thus been subjected to intense heat, bleached, refined and deodorized. If you’re going to cook with coconut oil, choose virgin oil and use it in moderation.