Is coconut oil healthier than other oils? Is it good for your heart? Will it help you lose belly fat or clear up your skin?
Everyone seems to be crazy for coconut oil these days. Culinary types love the taste and versatility that the oil provides while others think they should use it to help lower cholesterol, lose belly fat or fend off chronic diseases.
But before you make an oil change, there’s more to the story and you have to buy the right kind of coconut oil.
Coconut Oil Nutrition: It’s 87% Saturated Fat!
It’s true: Coconut oil is naturally rich in saturated fat, with 12-13 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. In fact, it has more saturated fat than lard, butter and any of the popular vegetables oils like olive oil, corn, canola, safflower or soybean oils. That’s what makes it so firm and solid at room temperature. While the major saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, it’s unclear whether or not this specific saturated fat is less unhealthy than other saturated fats.
Saturated fat is like blood sludge that raises harmful LDL cholesterol levels and the American Heart Association recommends that we keep saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories. For a woman, that’s no more than 14 grams of saturated fat a day—or about what you get in a tablespoon of coconut oil.
In addition, like all oils, a tablespoon of coconut oil is 120 calories, so when losing weight, reducing total calorie intake is essential so a lot of oil of any type makes it hard to keep calories in check.
At this time, experts at most health organizations as well as Harvard School of Public Health, Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic recommend using it sparingly due to its saturated fat and calorie counts. In addition, I know of several RDs that say that clients who added more coconut oil to their diets often experienced increases in harmful cholesterol levels too. In fact, one of my colleagues said a patient’s LDL-cholesterol went from 90 to 168 after using 2Tbs daily in 5 months (she started taking it after hearing is was supposed to be good for her.
The research conducted and published to date on coconut oil has used virgin coconut oil, which is much different than the mass produced coconut oil that’s produced from dried coconut, and is most readily available in the supermarkets. Like extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil provides natural antioxidants that are stripped out of more processed oils. In addition, there are few human clinical trials using coconut oil that are available to back up most of the popular claims. If you’re going to purchase coconut oil, be sure it’s the virgin oil, and you can expect to pay about $10-20.00 for a 16-oz bottle.
The Bottom Line on Coconut Oil
Using coconut oil when cooking and baking many dishes is okay and may provide some health benefits but certainly won’t hurt you. Ingesting tablespoons of coconut oil for its health benefits is not yet recommended. If you’re struggling to lose weight, you’ll need to limit total calories so keep in mind that all fats contain 9 calories per gram, or 120 calories per tablespoon, so they pack in more than twice the calorie per weight compared to protein or carbohydrates.