For many years, the high saturated fat content of coconut oil made the oil a no-no for individuals looking to lose weight or live healthier lifestyles. Recent scientific reports have said saturated fat may not be as bad as once thought or as bad when compared to trans-fat. This has allowed coconut oil to gain popularity.
Coconut oil has a wonderful taste and is being used by cooks as substitutes for butter, shortening and other solid fat sources in baked goods like pie crusts. It’s also commonly used by movie theaters to make popcorn and is a requirement for preparing many authentic Thai dishes.
With that said, there are some savvy marketers looking to take advantage of coconut oil’s newfound popularity. They claim the oil does everything from shrinking waistlines to helping reverse Alzheimer’s disease. Still, these claims should be taken with a grain of salt, like most products that claim to be cure-alls for a variety of conditions.
Coconut oil contains about 90 percent saturated fat, which is a higher concentration of saturated fat than butter and lard. Too much saturated fat in a person’s diet tends to raise their LDL “bad” cholesterol levels. Coconut oil is unique from other products high in saturated fat, because it has shown it can raise a person’s HDL “good” cholesterol levels too. In addition to containing fat, plant-based oils like coconut also contain antioxidants and other substances.
However, coconut oil’s effect on a person’s health cannot be determined by a cholesterol reading alone. Some in the medical community suspect that coconut oil may promote atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the arteries that restricts blood flow.
Most of the research that has been conducted to this point has examined the short-term effects coconut oil has on cholesterol levels. There have not been any studies that examine coconut oil’s effect on heart disease. A few small studies have shown that coconut oil may help shrink waistlines. Even though a person’s waistline may be smaller, the use of coconut oil did not also lead to significant weight loss or a lower body mass index for those individuals. While many claims exist that coconut oil provides other health benefits including helping reverse Alzheimer’s disease, there has been no concrete scientific evidence to support those claims yet.
The take-home message is coconut oil can be used in cooking but should be used sparingly to maintain optimum health. The best, most effective way for weight loss continues to be exercise and following a healthy diet.
You can get more information about healthier living at the Harlan County Extension office.
Theresa Howard is the county extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.