Wouldn’t we all love a one-size-fits-all, eat this one food to lose weight and be healthy claim? Usually, when you hear these types of advertisements, it is safe to assume that they are not true. Today, we are going to look at some of the claims of coconut oil, and why it may not be the super addition to your diet we see on the media.
Before we look closer at these claims, let’s get a quick overview on coconut oil itself. Coconut oil is a fat that is very high in saturated fat. In fact, it is approximately 90% saturated fat. This is higher than butter, and even beef or lard. High amounts of saturated fat in the diet can lead to a raise in LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. The reason for the hype behind coconut oil is that, contrary to most other saturated fats, it not only raises bad LDL cholesterol, but it can also slightly increase your HDL (good) cholesterol. However, this research has only looked at short term results, and there are better ways to increase that HDL (good) cholesterol without such high levels of saturated fat.*
Recently, there have been claims that coconut oil can help you lose weight, prevent/treat diabetes, and even reverse Alzheimer’s disease. While there may be some truth behind parts of these claims, it is important to be informed of the research behind this fatty oil.
- The claim on helping with weight loss: Yes – coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, which we claim speed up metabolism. Research has only studied a very small group of people regarding weight loss with coconut oil, with potentially skewed results. When coconut oil was added to the diet, participants were shown to have only lost very small amounts of weight. These results may be skewed, however, because there was not a control factor, and other lifestyle changes that were made (i.e. less calories consumed and more exercise) are more likely to be the reason for weight loss. Therefore, there is still no scientific evidence that coconut oil aids in weight loss.
- Briefly, studies regarding diabetes have only been done on animal models. There have been results showing that coconut oil may be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes, however, as stated before, there is no scientific evidence of these effects on human subjects. If you are an individual with diabetes, coconut oil should not be treated any differently that any other saturated fat.
- Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are what link coconut oil to brain health. Glucose, which is provided by the foods that we eat, is broken down to provide energy for the brain. Some research states that the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease are unable to break down glucose efficiently to provide this energy for the brain. Therefore, there are claims that the alternate source of glucose as MCTs found in coconut oil can assist in energy production. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
So, what does all this mean? This is not to say that you should never consume coconut oil, but it is important to know the facts! There may be many claims, but the facts remain the same. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, and in turn can increase your risk for heart disease. As any other saturated fat, this should be treated as such, and be consumed only in moderation. Replacing saturated fats, such as coconut oil, with more heart healthy fats, (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) like extra virgin olive oil, may be more beneficial for total health.
*If you are looking to raise your HDL cholesterol, try replacing saturated fats with healthier fats, and include healthy fats in your diet! These include Omega-3s like fatty fish (salmon, herring, trout, sardines), walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds, along with monounsaturated fats, such as nuts, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and peanut butter.
Sources: https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/the-facts-about-coconut-oil, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/coconut-oil, https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/choose-healthy-fats