When my mother-in-law informed me that coconut oil was part of her new diet plan, and my husband announced that he wanted to try a coconut oil chicken recipe from a men’s health magazine, I began to wonder if olive oil really should get the boot from a new-found “healthier” option. Instead of joining the coconut oil craze, I decided to do some hardcore research on the subject for myself-Nothing better than a little reading on the organics and biochemistry of fats!
Plain and simple, coconut oil is a FAT! It is not a weight loss food. It has the same amount of calories as any other fat. Yes, it is a better option than butter and other trans fats because it doesn’t contain any cholesterol, but it doesn’t beat olive oil or other plant-based oils. In fact, coconut oil can still potentially increase your risk for heart disease because it is high in saturated fat (the “bad” kind of fat that you should avoid in your daily diet). Not only is it high in saturated fat…it has the HIGHEST amount of saturated fat of any fat at 92%. I am not saying to avoid all fat in your diet. Fat is necessary for our bodies to function, but in the right daily amounts.
So, why the “Craze”? Does coconut oil really cure cancer, lead to immediate weight loss, and give you a fool-proof immune system? If only! Coconut oil is an interesting little fat. Although it is high in saturated fat and should be limited in the diet for this reason, it does have some unique properties that may offer some health benefits. Coconut oil is made up of fatty acids. Unlike other fats, the main contributors are a mix of short and medium chain fatty acids, predominantly lauric and myristic acids. It is thought that this mixture may be the reason why coconut oil actually helps to increase HDL (or good cholesterol) in the body. Even though it may give your good cholesterol a strong boost, it will also increase your LDL (or BAD cholesterol). Another positive of coconut oil is its plant-based origin. Plant based products offer antioxidant properties, and coconut oil probably also contains some healthy chemicals that researchers haven’t yet identified. Studies are currently looking at coconut oil’s impact on Alzheimer’s and other diseases, but it is far too early to say that it is a “cure-all”.
So, although it may be tempting to dump your olive oil down the drain, DON’T DO IT! Olive Oil is still a healthier fat option for your heart and your waistline as far as we know. It’s okay to use coconut oil every now and then for a flavorful treat, but DON’T make it your “go to” fat. If you love to bake and are looking for a healthier alternative to butter, then coconut oil is a good alternative. This won’t make your double chocolate chip cookies low-fat, but it might make them just a little bit healthier!
Check out the hyperlinks for more supporting evidence from Harvard, The Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins.
From The Mom in Me, MD