Fact or Fiction: Is coconut oil really that good for you?
Once a product only found in boutique health food stores, coconut oil is now available on shelves everywhere from big brand superstores to the most basic grocers.
Why the sudden popularity?
It could be the ‘Bulletproof Coffee’ trend, made by blending coconut oil and butter into a cup of java, praised by some for its ability to suppress the appetite.
Maybe it’s all those paleo food bloggers around the world who tout its subtle flavour and digestive benefits. There’s also the centuries-old practice of ‘oil pulling’ which has recently made a comeback with people around the world for its professed benefits to oral health.
But with coconut oil being one of the richest sources of saturated fat around, can it really be that good for you?
Coconut oil was demonized in 1994 by a few highly influential scientists from the American Center for Science in the Public Interest when they released a study on saturated fats. Their report claimed a large movie theatre popcorn, without added butter, contained as much saturated fat as six Big Macs, thanks to being popped in coconut oil.
However, their research focused only on refined and hydrogenated coconut oil which contained unhealthy trans-fat as well as saturated fat and a refining process that destroys any of its healthy properties. That chemically treated coconut oil was shown to be one of the worst kinds of fat a person could consume and, consequently, stores everywhere pulled coconut oil from their shelves.
Fast forward a couple decades and fears about coconut oil have started to subside. New research shows that not all saturated fats are created equal. In terms of coconut oil, the refined variety has no correlation to unrefined, organic virgin coconut oil which retains all of its essential fatty acids, antioxidants and other healthy properties.
Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Krystle Jesko, and founder of Balance Your Health in London, says, “There are two views to the coconut oil argument on whether or not it is good for you. On one hand, it’s classified as a saturated fat, which has proven to increase the bad cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. What’s important to clarify about these findings is that these studies focus on animal sources of saturated fats. The other view is that coconut oil contains a fat called lauric acid, which is non-animal based. Studies actually show the opposite effects, increasing the good cholesterol levels, which help decrease one’s risk of getting heart disease.”
According to Jesko, decreasing the risk of heart disease is just the tipping point for the health benefits of consuming coconut oil. Studies have shown it to have antibacterial and antifungal properties which helps fight a variety of illnesses, yeast, candida and fungi in the body. The weight loss and satiating qualities of coconut oil may not be all hype either.
“Where saturated fats cause weight gain, coconut oil contradicts that by actually decreasing inflammation in the body,” says Jesko. “Studies being done on coconut oil show that it can also help balance our hormones and blood sugar levels, which are known to cause weight gain. Considering the ‘Standard American Diet’ many Canadians live on, we all could use some extra help in these areas.”
Coconut oil is mostly made up of medium-chain triglycerides, which are thought to be more neutral when it comes to the impact on cholesterol levels as compared to animal fats containing long-chain triglycerides. Since medium-chain triglycerides get metabolized quickly, the body stores less of it as fat.
“Of course, it’s important to remember that coconut oil is high in fat and calories, and even though it may provide some health benefits, it is important to use it in moderation. Too much of any one food is never a good thing,” says Katy Bloxsom, a Registered Dietitian and food blogger at havefruitwilltravel.com. “While coconut oil is high in fat (almost 100% fat) and calories, it is not just empty calories. Coconut oil is high in antioxidants, which help mop up damaging free radicals. What’s more, coconut oil can increase the amount of antioxidants in the brain. Blasting the free radicals in the brain helps to keep it healthy over time.”
Coconut oil is reported to have so many health benefits that it has received status as a ‘true superfood.’ Getting the benefits of coconut oil is as easy as using it in place of your usual cooking oil. It can be used in salad dressings, stir-fry’s or to temper spicy cuisine.
“When it comes to coconut oil a little can go a long way,” says Jesko. “I’d say getting one tablespoon into your diet as a daily maintenance dose for the health benefits mentioned is a good place to start. Then increase from there depending on one’s gender, weight, physical activity, lifestyle and health concerns.”
Beyond consuming coconut oil, many people are using it as their go-to hair and skin care product. Coconut oil can be melted (the premium product comes in solid form) and then applied as a ‘mask’ on the hair to soften it, reduce protein loss, and intensify the colour. Coconut oil can also be applied topically to the underarms as a deodorant or used as a body moisturizer.
It can even be used to heal acne. “Because of its antibacterial and anti-viral properties, coconut oil could decrease inflammation within acne lesions, says Dr. David Bank, a Board Certified Dermatologist. “It is also known to be very moisturizing and soothing to the skin, therefore making it ideal for cracked lips and diaper rash. In addition, this light oil is a safe, natural way to clean off makeup with no sticky residue.”
Bank’s also notes, “It is recommended that you use only unrefined virgin coconut oil because it is extracted straight from fresh coconuts, without being processed by bleaching or deodorizing.”
Coconut oil has seemingly endless benefits. However, most nutritionists and dietitians agree, consumers should be sensible about using it. As with anything else, moderation is key.
Get a creamy frothy coffee without the dairy.
1 cup (8 oz.) of freshly brewed black coffee
1 TBSP Coconut Oil, melted
1 Tsp Honey
1 Tsp Vanilla
Add each item to a blender or food processor that can handle hot fluid. Blend, pulsing occasionally, for approximately 60 seconds or until light brown and frothy. Pour into your mug, and enjoy!
Written by Lin Parkin