There’s a lot of chatter about coconut these days. Many new products containing coconut are lining grocery store shelves, from coconut milk and water to flavored yogurts and frozen desserts. Some popular doctors, celebrities and diets tout the health benefits, but for now more reliable scientific research is needed before drawing any real conclusions.
Health Claims for Coconut Oil:
There are multiple health claims regarding the benefits of coconut oil, including promoting weight loss and improving heart health. One study looked at women ages 20-40 years of age who supplemented their diet with coconut oil. The results showed a decrease in abdominal fat. The participants were also given dietary and exercise advice so it is hard to prove how much of an effect the coconut oil had on their fat loss. As for improving cholesterol and heart health, there are a few studies that looked at coconut oil and found the combination of fatty acids in this oil improved the “good” HDL cholesterol, but on the flip side it raised the “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Where Coconut Oil Fits Into the Total Fat Equation:
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, dietary fat from both healthy, (unsaturated) fat and unhealthy (saturated and trans) fat sources should make up no more than 35 percent of your daily calories. Some healthy fats include peanut butter, nuts, avocados, olive and canola oil. Some unhealthy fats are found in high fat meat and animal products, full fat dairy foods and oils such as palm and coconut oil and foods prepared from these oils.
Cooper Clinic recommends for a 2,000 calorie a day diet less than seven percent of total calories come from saturated fat. That equates to 16-22 grams of saturated fat a day. One tablespoon of coconut oil contains about 12 grams of saturated fat which is a big chunk of your saturated fat allotment! Most popular food products (see list below) are proportionately high in saturated fat to total fat. Even small amounts of either unsaturated or saturated fats are calorie-dense so accounting for the portion is a key factor. If you choose to include small amounts of coconut products in your diet, keep in mind how they fit into the total amount of your saturated fat budget. As with all foods, stick with moderation.
Comparing Coconut Products:
- Coconut oil: 1 tablespoon contains about 120 calories, 13.5 grams total fat and 12 grams saturated fat.
- Canned coconut milk: ½ cup serving contains about 220 calories, 24 grams total fat and 21 grams saturated fat.
- Coconut milk (So Delicious®, Original): 1 cup contains 80 calories, 5 grams total fat and 5 grams saturated fat.
- Coconut Greek yogurt: 6 oz. contains 140 calories, 4.5 grams total fat and 3.5 grams saturated fat.
- Coconut water: 1 cup contains about 45 calories, 0.5 grams total fat and 0.4 grams saturated fat.
- Coconut milk dessert (So Delicious®, vanilla, no sugar added): 1 cup contains 200 calories, 16 grams total fat and 14 grams saturated fat.
For more information about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services or to schedule a nutrition consultation, click here or call 972.560.2655.
What is it?
It is the edible oil that is extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconut. The majority of the fat in coconuts is saturated, but this saturated fat is considered different than what is found in animal fats. Animal fats are composed of long chain fatty acids (LCFA); whereas, coconut oil is composed of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA).
MCFA are much smaller in size than LCFA, and this is what makes them easily digested in the body. The fats in coconut oil are actually so small that they are able to bypass the intestine in digestion, therefore not entering the bloodstream and going straight to the liver. In the liver, these MCFA are used as fuel to produce energy. The LCFA are digested slowly in the intestine. As they travel through the intestine, they are combined into bundles called lipoproteins, and these do enter the bloodstream. This is what is thought to cause artery blockage and heart problems.
What are the benefits?
Coconut oil is used for a variety of reasons. According to some, coconut oil has helped to treat heartburn and acid reflux. The main benefit that is being studied is that coconut oil may actually promote weight loss. One study that was done by the American Oil Chemists Society (AOCS) looked at abdominal obesity in women aged 20-40 years. The women who were supplemented with coconut oil showed a decrease in abdominal fat and an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol. The weight loss though could also be attributed to the fact that the women received dietary advice about physical activity and healthier eating habits during the study.
Also, this oil has been touted to help with hypothyroidism, which can cause weight gain, depression and fatigue. According to the Mayo Clinic though, there is still not enough research to promote this claim. An “immune system” booster is another claim that has been made about coconut oil due to the fact that it contains lauric acid. Lauric acid is a fatty acid that is found in breastmilk, and it helps infants to produce the substance monolaurin to fight off viral or bacterial infections. If consumed by an adult, lauric acid is thought to have this same effect. Lauric acid has also been shown to lower the total cholesterol to HDL ratio.
Should I use coconut oil?
Even with all of the benefits it is thought to have, coconut oil is still considered a saturated fat. The Cooper Clinic recommends for a 2,000 calorie a day diet only to consume 16-22 grams of saturated fat, less than seven percent of total daily calories. One tablespoon of coconut oil contains about 13 grams of saturated fat and 120 calories. Keep these numbers in mind if you do decide to use coconut oil. There still needs to be more research to study its long-term effects. For now, use it in moderation, and continue to follow a healthy eating-plan.