Posted: Sep 14, 2018
Coconut oil has taken social media and the health industry by storm. Whether you coat your frying pan with it, use it in baked goods or moisturize your hair and skin with it, chances are you, or someone you know, have given coconut oil a try. Due to the controversial differences in recommendations and opinions of coconut oil, the general public is having a tough time deciding whether or not to incorporate it into their diet, and if so, how much.
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil comes from extracting and pressing the oil from the flesh of coconuts. There are two different versions available- unrefined and refined. Unrefined, or virgin coconut oil is a stronger tasting and flavourful option, while refined is more processed with a higher smoke point (better for cooking).
Coconut oil does provide some benefits such as a rich flavour, an extended shelf life if stored properly, and a higher smoke point. However, the weight loss and health benefits that are presumed to come from using this product are something to be cautioned about.
What are Medium Chain Triglycerides?
Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a form of saturated fatty acids that have been the topic of many research studies in the recent years and contribute to some of the fat found in coconut oil. Research articles have suggested MCTs may provide some form of weight loss aide, improvement in insulin sensitivity in Type 2 diabetics, increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, increased fat oxidation (fat burning), and may play a dietary therapeutic role in the treatment of epilepsy for children.
Why should I be cautious with coconut oil?
This is where the recommendations get tricky. There is still a need for additional research to assess the long-term health consequences of a diet high in saturated fat/MCT. A number of studies surrounding the benefits of coconut oil were performed on mice, and although this is a common occurrence, translating this information is not as easily done. There are many differences that need to be taken into consideration when applying mice/rat studies to human recommendations, so be aware of this.
Interestingly enough, coconut oil does not necessarily correlate with the MCT researched benefits. Although coconut oil does contain MCTs, the actual amount of and available “benefits” have not quite been identified. Recently, there have also been research papers delving more into the effects of a diet high in MCT, suggesting that there may be an increase in hunger/appetite, which is the opposite of what has been previously understood.
Additionally, the American Heart Association released a statement in June of 2017 that read “The advisory, an analysis of more than 100 published research studies dating as far back as the 1950s, reaffirmed that saturated fats raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Tropical vegetable oils such as coconut oil contain high levels of saturated fats, and the authors reported that coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol in seven controlled trials.” Keeping heart health in mind is extremely important with the modern day high fat, highly processed and super-sized culture of North America. Be cautious with the amount of coconut oil, and saturated fat in general you are including in your diet.
In summary, there are a lot of mixed messages when it comes to coconut oil. Human research is still needed to provide more applicable and concrete recommendations for the general population to follow. That being said, consuming high amounts of calorically dense fat will most likely promote weight gain. If you want to incorporate coconut oil into your diet, give it a try in small, mindful amounts. Opt for unsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil or canola oil more often, as these have been heavily researched and are known for their heart healthy properties.