What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is oil extracted from the flesh of a coconut. When coconut oil is extracted, all it contains is fat. It does not contain carbohydrate or protein. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats. The length of the fatty acid chain is dependent on the number of carbon atoms. The fats can be long chain, medium chain or short chain. Long chain fatty acid present in coconut oil is lauric acid. Coconut oil also contains medium chain fatty acids, but they only makes up 20%.
What is the hype around coconut oil?
1. Myths about weight loss
Coconut oil has been classified as a ‘superfood’ for the longest time due to the fact it contains MCTs. MCT’s are known to be potential agents of weight loss as they easily reach the liver and get oxidized instead of getting deposited as fat unlike long chain fatty acids. In addition, multiple human and animal studies have found that medium chain fatty acids keep you fuller compared with long chain fatty acids. However, as previously mentioned, MCTs constitute only a small proportion of coconut oil. So, it is not recommended to obtain MCTs from coconut oil as you would need to consume at least 21.6g of it to obtain an amount of MCTs that can help with weight loss. In addition, coconut oil is very calorie rich. One tablespoon contains 505 KJ.
2. Myths about food intake and satiety
A study was conducted to compare the effects of consuming coconut oil and pure MCT oil on food intake and satiety. The participants were allocated to consume a breakfast smoothie either with coconut oil or MCT oil. Participants who consumed the MCT oil smoothie were full for longer compared to the participants who had the MCT oil smoothie. Participants were also provided sandwiches three hours after breakfast and the study found that the participants who had MCT oil smoothies consumed less of the sandwiches.
3. Myth that coconut oil is protective against heart disease
Lauric acid present in coconut oil is shown to increase LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This is the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is known as the ‘bad cholesterol’ because it gets deposited on the arteries causing heart disease. Studies have also shown that coconut oil increases HDL (good cholesterol) in addition to increasing LDL cholesterol. However, the effect is very minimal. HDL cholesterol is known as the ‘god cholesterol’ as it protects the heart against heart disease. It does this by moving the ‘bad’ cholesterol away from the arteries and to the liver where it’s removed from the body. The best way to significantly increase HDL cholesterol is to consume unsaturated fats from sources like fish, avocado and olive oil.
Using coconut oil for cooking
Coconut oil is used by some populations due to its cultural significance or because of its distinct flavour. It can be used for cooking as it has a high smoke point. However, it is not advisable in large amounts due to its effect on cholesterol (as previously discussed). Instead, evidence suggests using extra virgin olive oil as it contains mainly monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants which protect the heart against heart disease.
In summary, coconut oil definitely doesn’t live up to its hype as a ‘superfood’. But, nothing in excess is favourable for maintaining good health and everything in moderation is acceptable. So, if you choose to use coconut oil in small amounts and not as a major component of your diet it will not be harmful.
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This article was written by our dietitian and nutritionist Juhi Bhambhaney. If you have any questions regarding health and nutrition, make an appointment with one of our dietitians. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.