Coconut oil has become somewhat of a trend in recent years, not only to cook with, but also for skincare and beauty. But is it as healthy as it claims? We break down the good, the bad and the ugly on this sweet-smelling tropical staple.
Coconut oil is a tropical oil derived from the flesh of coconuts, by pressing the fat from the white “meat” inside the giant nut. One tablespoon contains 121 calories and 13.5 grams of fat, 11.2 grams of which are saturated. Thus, about 84% of coconut oil’s calories come from saturated fat – the primary reason why this oil has gotten a bad rap. (In comparison, 14% of olive oil’s calories are from saturated fat while 63% of butter’s are).
However, there is a silver lining: coconut oil’s saturated fat is made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. This structure of fat behaves differently from that of many animal-based foods – which mainly consist of longer-chain fatty acids – in that MCTs are quickly broken down by the body and converted into energy, which is why coconut oil is sometimes included in weight loss diets.
Proponents of coconut oil also point to studies that suggest that MCT-saturated fats can boost HDL levels, or what’s known as “good” cholesterol. Increased HDL is linked to reduced heart disease risk and better cardiovascular health. However, coconut oil is also believed to raise your LDL levels, or “bad” cholesterol, which helps form plaque that blocks your arteries.
Another benefit of coconut oil is its ability to remain stable under heat. As a result, it is not as likely as other oils to oxidize and create harmful compounds like free radicals during cooking.
So, what’s our take on it? While coconut oil can add flavor and variety to the diet, don’t forget that any oil should be consumed in moderation. As such, we recommend keeping the focus on healthier fat sources, along with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins.