Dietitian-Approved Guide: Are The Claims About Coconut Oil True?

Claims abound about the benefits of coconut oil; according to some marketers, this oil has the power to melt away fat, reduce wrinkles, and treat various diseases. Summit’s nutrition and wellness team explains where coconut oil benefits end and hype begins.

Coconut Oil

Currently, coconut oil is enjoying a popularity it did not have in the 1980s. Then, it was stigmatized for its high saturated fat content. When nutrition research later announced that trans fats were even worse for us than highly saturated fats, coconut oil’s reputation got a bit of a reprieve. As interest in organic foods rose, it was embraced by some health food marketers as a miracle oil possessing an array of healing benefits. Unfortunately, the health benefits attributed to coconut oil are often wildly overstated.

Understanding the research

Much of the research done on coconut oil in the past was focused on the oil in its hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated form. Partial hydrogenation is what creates trans fat. The process destroys the good essential fatty acids and antioxidants found in virgin coconut oil. It’s true that it contains lauric acid, which raises both our good and bad cholesterol levels.

Sorting hype from facts

The current-day hype is focused on this lauric acid. Claims about the healing properties of coconut oil are based on the belief that lauric acid is some sort of wonder substance. It would be great if it were true, but these claims are coming from unreliable sources. When you look at the scientific data, there’s no reliable data to support these ideas, or to deliberately supplement your diet with coconut oil for health reasons.

On the other hand, coconut oil detractors claim that a high level of saturated fat makes it unhealthy. This isn’t necessarily true. The saturated fat in coconut oil is not the same saturated fat found in animal products. Think about the saturated fat found in dairy products; we’ve learned that it does not have the ill effects we once believed it to have. Our understanding of nutrition is constantly evolving, which is why it is so important to keep up with current research.

When to use coconut oil

If you like the taste of coconut, go ahead and use it as a replacement for butter or lard to make your favorite treat. However, from a health perspective, I think the question to really ask is whether this particular oil is better for you compared to another fat source. Is coconut oil better compared to olive oil? Is it better compared to butter? Coconut oil is not a terrible oil that is detrimental to health, but that does not mean it is going to benefit our health in a profound way either.

Overconsumption of any oil is not going to help you lose weight or combat chronic diseases. If your health is your priority, try concentrating on consuming a wide variety of foods. Include some coconut oil in your diet if you like it, but embrace other healthy fat sources too.

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