Coconut Oil seems to be the superfood of the moment! Celebrities and wellness bloggers alike claim that its their number one beauty secret. But is it they really the nutritional goldmine it is being marketed as, or just another diet FAD?
For years coconut oil was on the ‘naughty’ list of many health conscious cooks because of its high saturated fat content. But now it seems as though Coconut Oil has become the “GO-TO” ingredient for many “clean eating” bloggers and celebrities including Miranda Kerr who claims to eat a “spoonful” of the stuff everyday!
Many advocates of coconut oil it claim it can boost metabolism, brighten your teeth and strengthen immunity. It is also making its way into body balms, beauty treatments and hair products because of its ability to lock in moisture. There is no denying that coconut oil smells amazing, so go ahead and rub it all over yourself if you so choose…but when if you’re tempted to “eat a spoonful a day”, than you might be taking it a bit far.
What do we know about Coconut Oil?
Coconut Oil has an incredibly high saturated fat content. About 85-90% of all its fatty acids are saturated, which is incredibly large when you compare it to other vegetable oils such as Olive Oil, which only has around 14%.
As we know, too much saturated fat in our diet can increase LDL cholesterol levels (which is usually referred to as “bad” cholesterol as it can accumulate in the blood vessels causing the narrowing of our arteries) leading to a greater risk of heart disease. Hence, the Australian Heart Foundation has recommended that we avoid coconut oil and it’s high saturated fat content.
So why are we now being told that it is a “miracle” ingredient that belongs in everything from our “salads” to our “smoothies”?
Bruce Fife, a nutritionist, naturopathic doctor and author of The Coconut Oil Miracle claims that “coconut oil is unique in its chemical makeup…most of the [saturated] fat we eat is made up of long-chain fatty acids, but coconut oil is predominately medium chain fatty acids which are processed [in the body] differently”.
To some extent, this is true.
Saturated fat is divided into various types based on the number of carbon atoms in the molecule. So we have “long-chain fatty acids” (12-16 Carbons) which are said to increase the risk of heart disease, and “medium chain fatty acids” (6-10 Carbons) which are said to have little effect.
The major fatty acid present in coconut fat is lauric acid (12 carbons) which has been conveniently re-branded as a “medium chain” fatty acid by many coconut oil advocates. Lauric acid still raises our cholesterol, but rather than just increasing LDL-cholesterol (bad) it may, I repeat, may also increase HDL-cholesterol (good), which picks up excess cholesterol from the body tissues and takes it back to the liver to be utilised.
IS THIS WHY COCONUT OIL HAS BETTER THAN EXPECTED HEALTH BENEFITS?
Well the Jury is still out on that one.
Lauric acid definitely raises Total Blood Cholesterol. But what is still debated, is whether or not it increases both LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol, and whether or not the increase in HDL is actually beneficial or if it is “non functioning” HDL.
A systematic review of a number of studies which tested the effects of coconut fat on blood cholesterol found that only ONE study resulted in their subjects having higher levels of HDL after a coconut fat diet. Whereas, EVERY study showed significant increase in Total Cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
A rather unconvincing result.
SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
It’s been marketed as a “cure-all” answer to everything from acne, stress, to weight loss and even HIV and Cancer. Which would be wonderful…IF IT WERE TRUE!
The truth is that Coconut Oil is NOT the miracle cure many believe it is. Much of what we have heard about Coconut Oil, is just a marketing ploy used to sell us a product that we do not need. If you want to choose the healthier option, stick to good old Olive Oil which is half the price and has many proven benefits.
However, if you like the flavour or wish to rub it all over your body so you smell like an island holiday, than by all means go ahead. Just do not use it as a supplement or replacement for other, much healthier, vegetable oils.