Coconut Oil: Healthy or Harmful to Your Health?

August 14, 2017

Recent claims range from faster weight loss and better heart health to softer hair and stronger nails. But what’s the truth about coconut oil?

My name is Katie Hake and as a registered dietitian nutritionist at Indiana University Health, I’m here to help you sort the facts from the fiction. I specialize in working with bariatric patients. In addition to being followed by a team, our patients also receive individualized nutrition counseling post-operatively. Throughout each patient’s experience, we work together to help them best identify barriers and solutions--and that includes debunking popular nutrition myths.

What is coconut oil?

Coconut oil is a type of oil that is removed from the fruit of the coconut. It is a saturated fat. Pure, virgin coconut oil is also high in lauric acid which is a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) that has been shown to raise both good and bad cholesterol levels.

Coconut oil claims

Health claims have been flying. But, what’s the real scoop? Read on to learn more.

Claim #1: Coconut oil promotes weight loss: Yes, it is slightly lower in calories than other fats, however, coconut oil is still 115 calories per tablespoon which (like all oils) can add up quickly. Some (rodent) studies have linked it to be slightly supportive of weight loss, but at this moment there is not enough solid evidence to make any formal recommendations.

Claim #2: Coconut oil can treat diabetes: While some studies suggest MCFAs (which is in coconut oil) may affect the body differently, there is currently no evidence that coconut oil can alter sensitivity to insulin. It should also be noted that the American Diabetes Association places coconut oil under its category of saturated fat, therefore it’s a substance that should be limited.

Claim #3: Coconut oil can improve heart health: HDL, ‘good’ cholesterol, has been shown to increase with consumption of coconut products; however it can also increase LDL, otherwise known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. Since coconut oil contains mostly saturated fat, research shows it is better to choose more mono- and polyunsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, and avocados.

How should you use coconut oil?

Coconut oil tastes sweeter and contains nutty hints, so it can be used as a substitute for shortening or butter, particularly for those avoiding animal products. The bottom line: Use coconut oil in moderation and focus on an overall balanced healthy diet.

-- By Katie Hake, RD
Indiana University Health

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