More and more people are going loco for coco; nuts for coconuts. Coconut oil to be specific. It’s touted as a healthy alternative to butter, vegetable oil and margarine, yet it actually tastes pretty bloody good (Australian talk, sorry). The reason it tastes so darn delicious is because 92% of its fat is saturated. Hold up! Hold up! How on earth can something with such a high saturated (bad) fat content ever be healthy?
That’s a fantastic question, thanks for asking. The saturated fat in coconut oil is a unique type. It’s made up predominately of medium chain fatty acids, which means its chemical structure is slightly different to that of other saturated fats and these medium chain triglycerides are proposed to not have the negative health effects of normal saturated fat. So is coconut oil a good-bad fat, or are we being told a big fat lie?
The science. The sweet, sweet science:
Many studies have been conducted assessing the effects of coconut oil on animals. But unless you’re a hypertensive mouse or a pregnant pig, these studies aren’t particularly relevant to you. Therefore, we will look exclusively at the data surrounding coconut oil use in humans. Here it is:
Consuming 30mL of coconut oil daily in addition to a normal diet decreased waist circumference in obese women, when compared to those consuming an equivalent calorie diet and supplementing with soy bean oil (1). Other studies have also found supplementation with a medium chain fat like coconut oil increased weight loss more than supplements like olive oil (5, 6). Great stuff!
The effects of coconut oil supplementation were assessed in breast cancer sufferers receiving chemotherapy. Coconut oil was found to improve quality of life, function and various symptoms (3). You beauty!
You were all waiting for this I know. A study found consuming 10g of coconut oil daily increased HDL (good cholesterol), without increasing LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in pre-menopausal women (2). However, a very old study found that one pacific island that consumed a diet higher in coconut oil than another pacific island reported higher levels of overall cholesterol (4). That is obviously not a good thing! So what does this mean for coconut oil? Read below.
Is it healthful?
Human research on coconut oil is in its infancy, so we can’t yet make firm conclusions. The existing data suggests that supplementation with a couple of teaspoons a day may enhance weight loss, improve symptoms in diseases such as cancer and improve cholesterol levels. But, when it is consumed heavily, like those Pacific Islanders, it may be detrimental to cholesterol levels as it is, after all, still a saturated fat.
Our verdict: Slightly healthful. But with further human studies could be proven to be very healthful. Only take a couple of teaspoons a day to be safe.
I hope this has been healthful.