Beware of coconut oil's fat content
Believe it or not, coconut oil has six times more saturated fat than olive oil per tablespoon, with a hefty 12 g of saturated fat per tablespoon. "For many, that's more than half the daily recommended amount," says Edwina Clark, MS, RD, head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly, a mobile app and website that provides recipe recommendations. And science confirms it; in a recent report published in the journal Circulation, the American Heart Association found little to no difference between coconut oil and other highly saturated oils like butter and lard. It's true that not all types of saturated fats are created equal. Coconut oil is particularly high in lauric acid, a type of saturated fat shown to raise good cholesterol (HDL), similar to unsaturated fats. The problem with lauric acid, unfortunately, is that it also raises bad cholesterol (LDL) and total cholesterol levels as well. By contrast, Clark notes, the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat that are abundant in olive oil and other vegetable oils have been shown to lower LDL and total cholesterol levels. Check out the subtle signs that you're eating too much bad fat.
Watch out for overuse
Once you fall in love with coconut oil, with its tropical taste and umami effects, you may be tempted to sauté, fry, broil, and bake it into everything you prepare. "Coconut oil can be used to add a pleasant coconut-y flavor to toast, granola, nut butters, smoothies, popcorns, and soups," Clark says. "Just remember a little bit goes a long way." In general, olive oil (especially extra virgin olive oil) and other vegetables oils such as canola, safflower, and sunflower oils are still the best choices in the kitchen." Limit coconut oil to one to two teaspoons per day to stay within the recommendations for saturated fat and keep your heart squeaky clean," Clark adds. (Check out these ways to use coconut oil around your house.)
Coconut oil is not a superfood
You might not know it from the buzz on the blogosphere, but coconut oil is not a superfood like salmon. "There are no large-scale, valid, or reliable studies to date supporting claims that coconut oils and butters boost energy, increase immunity, cure hypothyroidism, increase satiety, or decrease cravings," Nicole Morrissey, RD, writes in her blog, PreventionRD.com. Coconut oil does have antioxidant compounds that may help to reduce the risk of disease. “It has been touted as a ‘miracle’ cure for heart disease, weight loss, lowering cholesterol and helping to reverse or slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease," asserts Gary Appelsies, the director of healthy eating at the YMCA of Central Florida. "While coconut oil can be effective in helping to treat chronic illness, like anything else it is not the end all be all."
There are healthier sources of fat
We know now that dietary fat is not the enemy of good health, as we were led to believe just a few decades ago. But instead of coconut, there are healthier sources of fat such as nuts, seeds, and avocados that could round out your diet. "Also, don't forget the benefits of incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean and plant-based proteins into your daily intake," Appelsies says. "It's the combination of all of these things which will have an overall positive effect on your health and your body, not just doing what seems to be the trend and the newest next best thing." Learn the signs that you're not eating enough good fats.
Coconut oil might contain trans fats
When buying coconut oil, check the nutritional label to confirm that it doesn't contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, which would indicate trans fat content. "Trans fat is never considered a healthy fat," Morrissey writes.
There are some surprising benefits of coconut oil
Coconut oil can be effective at fighting dental plaque. "The technique called 'oil pullling,' which uses coconut oil, is widely used in Ayurveda medicine," says Monica Amsterdam, CHC, AADP, FDN-P, director of nutrition with the Medical and Wellness Center of New Jersey is Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. Swish coconut oil in your mouth for 15 minutes, without swallowing, to loosen dental plaque, she advises. Keep swishing for 30 to 45 minutes for better health in general. "This process allows the oil to pull out viruses, bacteria, and yeasts," Amsterdam says. The best time to do oil pulling is in the morning, before breakfast, to boost your oral health and overall health. Steal these secrets to keeping your pearly whites looking their brightest.
Weight loss may not be a benefit
Although eating coconut oil in moderation can be part of a healthy, balanced diet, it's not going to help you shed pounds, as advocates have suggested. "Coconut oil is high in calories and saturated fat—more saturated fat than even lard, at 90 percent vs. 40 percent," says Farzaneh Daghigh, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and a gastroenterological sciences course director at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Philadelphia." One tablespoon contains 13.6 grams of fat and 117 calories. Consuming too much will give you extra calories, signaling your body that it's time to store more fat."
It can make you feel full—at a price
Because of its high fat content, coconut oil signals to your leptin receptors that you are full, increasing satiety and potentially making you feel less hungry. If that keeps your mitts out of the cookie jar, that can be a good thing, but it may not result in overall calorie reduction. "A tablespoon of coconut oil is about 125 calories," says Patrick Henigan, owner of Jacksonville Fitness Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. "While they may be 'good' calories, that does not change the fact that an excess will cause weight gain." If you are going to add coconut oil to your diet, he adds, you will need to cut calories from another source. "Extra calories, no matter where they are from, will cause weight gain," Henigan says.