My office mates often ask me nutrition related questions. Today’s question revolved around coconuts (specifically coconut oil). One of my co-workers shared a story about her recent trip to a holistic health food store. She stated that while there, one of the employees shared the amazing health benefits of coconut oil. “Amy, this guy wanted me to take 3 tablespoons of the stuff per day!” My co-worker said that she was told coconut oil can help prevent heart disease, soften skin, and even improve gastrointestinal health. I asked her if the employee was able to provide any reference or study citations backing up some of his claims and I was told that he did not, and that was why she wanted to know my thoughts.

Coconuts have been increasingly in the spotlight lately. I have seen many ads promoting the health benefits of coconuts and many of my patients tell me that the drink coconut water and use coconut oil in place of olive oil. There are two types of coconut oil that you can use in baking and cooking. The first is “refined” coconut oil and is made from dried coconut meat that is chemically bleached and deodorized. The second is “virgin” coconut oil, which is extracted from a fresh mature coconut without using chemicals or high temperatures. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat. It contains almost 12 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon (as compared to 2 grams of saturated fat in one Tbsp. of olive oil)! However, virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which is a saturated fat that is a medium-chain-fatty acid. This means that it has potential to raise both your good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. And there is some preliminary research that suggests that coconut oil may actually have a beneficial effect in lowering total cholesterol. So, from a heart disease perspective, coconut oil may be beneficial for your heart. But, it is still a fat and is still very high in calories. A person that takes in more calories than she burns will likely gain weight, and then will be at higher risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

If you are interested in adding coconut oil to your diet, I would recommend that you do in small amounts and in moderation. I am told that refined coconut oil has a light, sweet-nutty taste and aroma. Because of the flavor, it can be used when making preparing curries or other meals with a tropical flavor. Coconut oil is best if used for baking or medium-heat sautéing. Finally, even though it is high in fat, it does not contain trans-fats so it would be a healthier choice then using a trans-fat containing shortening in your cooking.

Login to Favorite