If you are one of the many who are wondering if there are benefits to consuming the tropical fat, coconut oil, at the present time there are no peer-reviewed, credible scientific studies that show that coconut oil speeds metabolism, promotes weight loss, cures Alzheimer’s disease, improves brain function, or improves heart health. In addition, no evidence exists to prove that ”virgin” coconut oil is any less damaging to your heart than other varieties. While many wellness experts call coconut oil a “miracle” food, most health and nutrition experts are not in agreement since coconut oil is considered an unhealthy fat due to it’s high saturated fat content.

So, whom should you believe? Only you can decide that, but before you start consuming coconut oil on a regular basis take a look at some of the real, unbiased, scientifically based facts about coconut oil.. At least then you will be able to subtract fact from fiction in reaching your decision.

What we know

  • More than 90% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated fat…. just like butter.  Scientific evidence shows that saturated fat is detrimental to the health of heart and blood vessels and should not constitute more than 10% of your daily intake.
  • Many people who make positive health claims about coconut oil are actually using research on medical-grade coconut oil, which is not the same as the coconut oil that is sole in stores.
  • An observational study conducted many years ago on two Polynesian islands (Pukapuka Islands and Tokelau Islands) where the consumption of coconuts was remarkably high, making up 34%-63% of the total calories of the populations, reported that cardiovascular disease was uncommon. In looking at this study that is often used to promote the use of coconut oil, it was found that the conclusions drawn were based on the results of a single electrocardiogram (EKG) test.  In addition diet and health factors affecting the tribes outside of coconut consumption were not taken into account.
  • Coconut water does not contain the calories and fat found in coconut oil or shredded coconut since it does not contain any of the “meat” of the coconut. Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts are using coconut water to rehydrate. If it tastes great to you then by all means continue to drink it but recent reports suggest that coconut water is no better than regular drinking water when it comes to hydration.

Recommendations

  • Until there is scientific evidence to support increased consumption of coconut oil, think of it as a condiment, rather than your daily ”go-to” oil. Use it in baking and cooking but remember it is high in saturated fat, just like butter and should only be used in moderation.
  • Know that coconut oil is in canned coconut milk. A ½ cup serving contains 24 grams of fat, 21 of which are saturated while a ¼ cup of dried, shredded coconut contains 15 grams of fat and 13 grams of saturated fat.   If you are using shredded coconut try to stick with raw, shredded coconut since a ¼ cup serving contains 7 grams of fat, 6 of which are saturated.

References

W.B. Saunders. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). ”Fats and Oils to Choose,” accessed January 2013.

Cunningham, E. ”Is there science to support claims for coconut oil?,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Health.gov. ”Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010,” accessed January 2013. www.Health.gov.

Kris-Etherton P.M., Innis, S., American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada.  ”Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Fatty Acids,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. ”Coconut Oil,” accessed January 2013. www.naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com

Nicholls, S.J., Lundman, P., Harmer, J.A., Cutri, B., Griffiths, K.A., Rye, K.A., Barter, P.J., Celermajer, D.S. ”Consumption of saturated fat impairs the anti-inflammatory properties of high-density lipoproteins and endothelial function,” Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Prior, I.A., Davidson, F., Salmond,C.E., Czochanska, Z. ”Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau island studies,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Voon, P.T., Ng, T.K., Lee, V.K., Nesaretnam, K. ”Diets high in palmitic acid (16:0), lauric and myristic acids (12:0 + 14:0), or oleic acid (18:1) do not alter postprandial or fasting plasma homocysteine and inflammatory markers in healthy Malaysian adults,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Benefits of Coconut Oil…Fact Versus Fiction

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