The Truth About Coconut Oil

Is this popular, saturated fat a miracle food or an overhyped fad?


| November/ December 2017



coconut

Coconut oil is one of today's most popular health food trends.


Photo by iStock/Geo-grafika

Coconut oil is one of today’s most popular health foods. Passionate proponents of this tropical oil recommend eating it by the spoonful, adding it to coffee and slathering it all over our bodies, claiming it can help us lose weight, boost brain function, cure infections, protect against Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, reduce inflammation, benefit our hearts, and make our hair and skin glow. But as with any fad food with benefits that seem too good to be true, the hype on coconut oil may be just that. Many health experts are pushing back, urging consumers not to go nuts with their faith in, and use of, this saturated fat. As is so often the case, the truth may lie somewhere in the middle for this food.

In a Nutshell

In case you’re not familiar with coconut oil, here’s a quick snapshot.

Coconut oil is made by pressing the meat of a coconut to extract its fat. About 84 percent of its calories come from saturated fat. Some cooks like coconut oil because it has a high heat point, making it great for frying, and lends a distinct flavor to everything from Thai food to pie crusts. Virgin coconut oil smells and tastes like coconuts, while refined coconut oil, made from dried coconut meat, does not. Most health claims surround virgin coconut oil, sometimes called VCO.

Saturated fats themselves are a controversial health topic. Most saturated fats come from animal products, although coconut oil is an exception. Long demonized as a primary cause of clogged arteries and related chronic health conditions, saturated fat has been the subject of recent research that has some experts reconsidering its effects on health. In April of this year, three cardiologists released a report suggesting an absence of a link between consumption of saturated fat and health problems including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and the most common type of stroke.

Yet a number of health professionals questioned the report and maintain that eating a diet high in saturated fats will harm your health.

Research indicates that poly- and monounsaturated fats are indisputably healthy for us, while saturated fats may present some health risks. Studies find that replacing saturated fat in the diet with unsaturated fats improves overall health. Yet it seems saturated fats’ negative reputation may be at least partly due to their conflation with definitive metabolic havoc-wreakers: sugar and highly refined carbohydrates.





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