What’s the hype about coconut oil?

Discover the facts about coconut oil, its nutritional value and the effects consuming it will have on your body.

Have you heard the health claims about coconut oil? There are rumors that it can do everything from cure Alzheimer’s disease and prevent cancer to prompt weight loss. Coconut oil has been deemed the new miracle food – and it makes a tasty pie crust, too. Could it be true?

The first question might be “How is coconut oil different from other oils?” Well, it is the most saturated fat known to us. Coconut oil is 92 percent saturated, therefore it is solid at room temperature. Technically we should be calling it coconut fat – not oil. By contrast, other vegetable oils are only around 15 percent saturated, lard from beef fat is only 50 percent saturated and butter is 63 percent saturated.

Coconut oil also has a different chemical structure than other oils. The chemical structure of coconut oil is about 60 percent medium chain triglyceride (MCT) with only about 40 percent long chain triglyceride (LCT). Other oils, those that are less saturated, are nearly 100 percent LCT. What does that mean to our bodies? Because MCTs are transported directly from the intestine to the liver for fuel, they are more likely to get burned for fuel than deposited as fat. That sounds great, but overall the potential for benefit to our waistline and our cardiovascular health seems to be minimal at best, lagging behind canola and olive oil.

If we let go of the wild and largely unfounded health claims about coconut oil, what we might actually be looking for is permission to escape the low-fat diet. The Harvard School of Public Health takes the stance that we need adequate healthy dietary fat instead of a diet as devoid of fat as possible. Rather than abstinence or a low fat diet, Harvard is asking that we make the best possible choice when choosing dietary fat. Could this be good advice?

Over the last decade Americans have struggled with obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Our primary mantra has been to balance the calories eaten with the calories expended, lose the weight and get healthy. Little attention has been paid to the actual quality of the calorie eaten. Research is showing us that there is a correlation between the kind of calories eaten and health – regardless of weight. For best overall health, balance your calories and activity levels, but choose high-quality calories, including those fats from nuts, seeds and healthy oils. Resist the urge to believe health claims that are too good to be true, trusting instead impartial, critical reviews of the research.

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