Coconut Oil: Great For Your Cuticles, Not For Your Ticker. By: VIDA Registered Dietitian Addie Merletti
If you have social media, you probably noticed the frenzy caused by USA Today’s article about coconut oil not being healthy after the American Heart Association released a report advising against the use of it. So, more conflicting information on the internet about what is good for us and what isn’t! Here’s what you need to know:
Why they thought it was healthy in the first place
A study out of Columbia University showed consuming medium-chain triglycerides (a type of fat) may increase metabolic rate compared to eating long-chain triglycerides. However, in this study, the coconut oil used was packed with 100% MCTs when traditional coconut oil only contains about 13-15%. Also, other research with 100% MCT oil has had conflicting results. This unfortunately happens often in the field of nutrition: one study has favorable results, and industry generalizes those results and capitalizes upon our desire to be as “healthy” as possible.
Why it’s actually not
82% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated fat, which raises cholesterol levels in a person’s blood by stimulating the liver to create more cholesterol. Coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter, beef fat, and palm oil. This type of fat can raise LDL or “bad cholesterol” levels in your body and is also linked to heart disease.
When it’s okay to use it
Just like anything else that’s high in saturated fat, you don’t have to absolutely completely remove coconut oil from your diet forever. For example, when making baked goods for someone who is vegan, coconut oil is a decent replacement for butter. Also, certain Asian dishes are traditionally prepared with coconut oil and to keep the flavor profile the same, it is fine to use it in limited quantities. I would, however, recommend re-thinking a decision to put it in my coffee.
What is a “healthy” fat
In general, fats high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are optimal. Most of these are liquid at room temperature. Olive oil is the best health-wise among options high in monounsaturated fat, but if you need a high smoke point for cooking, try avocado, sunflower or safflower oil. Canola and peanut oils are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. For baking, canola oil is flavorless but lends moisture. Finally, it is important to note that current USDA recommendations include an allotment of 20-35% of calories from fat. This is to say that just because those fats are “healthy” does not mean they should be consumed without limits. Look out for my next post on the Ketogenic diet!
Want to chat with Addie on which cooking oils best suit your fitness goals and needs? Shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.