Recently, coconut oil has been proclaimed as the new miracle food! Not only is it said to cure Alzheimer’s and decrease the risk of heart disease, it can whiten teeth and moisturize your hair too! A single jar sitting in the cupboard is seen as the solution to all nutrition and beauty problems! But is this too good to be true? Although there is still a lot of research to be done, it may not be as great as everyone says. Understanding how to use it can help you decide whether or not it’s right for you!

What is coconut oil?

coconut and coconut oilNatural coconut oil is 90% saturated fat which is almost a whopping 30% more than butter! The difference between the two and their effects lies in the kind of saturated fat they’re made of.  Saturated fats are molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules.  They are typically solid at room temperature and can raise cholesterol levels in your blood; therefore, it’s important to make sure they aren’t prominent in your daily diet.  Fat can be categorized even more into the length of the triglycerides they’re made of; medium chain triglycerides, found in coconut oil, are more rapidly absorbed and metabolized faster by the body than long chain triglycerides found in other saturated fats.  Although the saturated fat of coconut oil is made of medium-chain triglycerides, in the end, it is still saturated fat!

Saturated fats should only be 7% of your daily total calories, which based on a 2,000 calorie diet, is 140 calories. One tbsp. of coconut oil already brings your daily total of saturated fat calories up to 101, leaving very little wiggle room for the rest of the day’s food intake! This can be dangerous if many of your other daily foods contain saturated fats.  Saturated fats are mostly found in fatty meats (beef, lamb, pork) and dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat milk (lard, butter, cheese).

Myth: Coconut oil cures Alzheimer’s

According to the Nutrition & Metabolism Journal, Alzheimer patients may benefit from a ketogenic diet. Ketogenic diets are high in fat and low in carbohydrates forcing the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates creating ketones as the body’s main energy source. When medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil are digested through the intake of coconut oil, the body’s cells produce ketones.  The idea behind using coconut oil to cure Alzheimer’s is that consuming coconut oil will, therefore, produce more ketones for the brain.  As this is great in theory, research done on rats has shown that the results are less promising. Rats were placed on either a 12% hydrogenated coconut oil diet or a 12% soybean oil diet for the two months.  In the end, the rats on the hydrogenated coconut oil diet had higher triglyceride levels, a small amount of weight gain, a larger LDL: HDL ratio, and lower scores on memory dependent activities.  More research must be done on humans and saturated fats effect on long-term memory, however, currently there is no specific evidence claiming that coconut oil or ketones can improve or prevent Alzheimer’s.

Myth: Coconut oil decreases the risk of heart disease

coronary heart diseaseThere are two types of cholesterol: HDL (good) and LDL (bad). Ideally, we want our HDL levels to rise and LDL levels to decrease, making the ratio between them relatively small. LDL cholesterol is bad as it is a source of blockage to the arteries and can lead to a heart attack. In a Malaysian study, young men and women were fed high amounts of coconut oil for 5 weeks and the results showed that it increased both their HDL and LDL levels. The medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut oil are known to raise HDL (good) but, excess saturated fat is known to raise LDL (bad), essentially keeping the cholesterol ratio of good too bad the same. Not only did it not better the ratio, but maintaining a high LDL number increases the risk for heart disease. Although it may seem enticing to raise HDL levels, it’s important to remember that coconut oil is also raising LDL levels which is problematic for long-term health.

Coconut oil vs. Vegetable oils: Which is better?

cooking oilsVegetable oils are made mostly of unsaturated fats vs. the saturated fat of coconut oil. Unsaturated fats are known to lower LDL levels and increase HDL levels, bettering the ratio between the two. More research has been done regarding vegetable oils heart-healthy benefits than coconut oils heart healthy benefits. Coconut oil should not be a replacement for vegetable oils in a heart- healthy diet.

When is coconut oil useful?

Coconut oil can often be used in baking as a replacement for butter or lard. Coconut oil doesn’t have to be eliminated from the diet, but keep in mind it may increase calories in snacks and recipes. Using small amounts when cooking or baking is not necessarily considered harmful, however, there isn’t enough evidence to show that it’s beneficial either! In the end, more research still needs to be done and as with most food, moderation is key


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Henderson ST, Vogel JL, Barr LJ, Garvin F, Jones JJ, Costantini LC. Study of the ketogenic agent AC-1202 in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2009;6:31. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-6-31.

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