Crazy for Coconuts

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I am always surprised at the food items people declare as healthy. Fiber1 bars, canned soups, light ice cream, and so on. In both talking with clients and scanning the supermarket shelves, it seems that Coconut Oil is the latest health food. My gut reaction is to scream What!? WHY?? But, it seems that these days, coconut oil wears the health halo. Is this valid?

Is coconut oil a healthy food? Is it even a nutrient dense food?

In a word, no. Coconut oil is fat; 90% saturated fat and nothing else. It provides calories and no other nutrients. This is also true with most junk foods, like sugar. Sugar and other sweeteners provide calories and nothing else. The problem with coconut oil the fact that it’s pretty much straight saturated fat. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t make it a healthy option, and in comparing it to other empty calorie foods- coconut oil is a junk food.

When we look at population studies of those who live the longest, it’s the low-fat vegetarian diet that wins. But notice the key words: low-fat. Now, I’m not saying that your diet should be devoid of fat. Fat is essential to our bodies and needed in vitamin absorption (of A,D,E,K). I believe that the main benefit of a vegetarian diet is not consuming the  harmful items that are mostly found in animal products: namely, saturated fat and cholesterol. Coconut oil is just a fancy name for saturated fat.

And that’s definitely not a good thing. An interesting observation is what happens when you consume just one high saturated fat meal. Both blood flow and the anti-inflammatory action of HDL (“good”) cholesterol are significantly reduced. Now, some of you may be saying that yes, you know that coconut oil is high in saturated fat, but it’s a healthy type of fat, and therefore good for you.

And that might be true. Might being if you have malabsorption problems like in liver disease, pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis ect. This is because coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride and therefore digested easier than other fats. But, like I stated previously, unless you have malabsorption problems, the fact that it’s a medium chain triglyceride is a mute point.

In comparing high tropical oil consumption in certain cultures it is imperative to look at all aspects of the lifestyle and environment. I say this because there are some studies that show Polynesian cultures to have relatively low rates of heart disease despite  high intake of coconut oil. But the lifestyle should be analyzed, not this single focus. Physical activity and other foods have more of an impact on the big picture than a single fat source.  And it still doesn’t make coconut oil a health food in my book.

Take home message? Oil is still oil. Just because one is touted healthier than the other doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a fat source and little else. Oil should be used sparingly, with only <5-7% of your total calories coming from saturated fat.

I’d love to hear your comments,

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  • Katie

    I definitely agree with you on this one. I’ve heard a lot of people saying they’re substituting coconut oil for other oils in recipes. Many people feel they can use more coconut oil because it’s “healthier” than other oils. I think that the same goes for the agave nectar craze, just because it’s natural does not mean it is healthy.

    Thanks dk!