April 1, 2013
Alison is a Registered Dietitian specializing in health and fitness nutrition. She is the co-author of “Go Beyond Good: The Trail to a Lifetime of Health and Vitality!” Do you have a question for Alison? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I am concerned about the recent media attention to the use of coconut oil and coconut products as a “miracle cure.” It has been suggested that they can boost both energy and immunity as well as be used as a weight loss aid. I know that we are learning that saturated fat isn't as bad as we used to think but what are some healthy and balanced ways I can work coconut oil into my diet? Are there any particular cautions for who should and should not include this kind of saturated fat in their diet? How much saturated fat do I need per day? Are there other health benefits I should know about? Where can I find reputable information that doesn't include fad diets and gimmicks?
A: Coconut oil is a hot topic and there is indeed a lot of misinformation being presented. Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain triglycerides and is readily used by the body. For this reason, the oil is commonly used in the hospital setting for use in patients requiring tube feedings. Coconut oil also has less effect on increasing your bad cholesterol (LDL) and does provide antifungal and antivirus properties. That’s the good news surrounding coconut oil.
The bad news is that coconut oil is high in artery clogging saturated fat. In one tablespoon of coconut oil there are 116 calories. This mostly saturated fat contains no protein, no carbohydrates and virtually no vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients. During the 1980s, the American Heart Association recognized coconut oil’s high saturated fat content as being overall destructive to heart health, as well as specifically promoting heart damage and disease. As a result, they continued to advise the reduction of all saturated fats, including coconut oil, to less than 7% of dietary calories. This opinion is shared by the World Health Organization and the FDA, both recommending decreasing intake of saturated fats, because the reduction of saturated fat, including coconut oil, has been shown to benefit our overall health. In conclusion, the health risks of coconut oil far outweigh the benefits. It does, however make a wonderful topical moisturizer for your skin.
Regarding your question on reputable nutrition information, I’d suggest The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine or Engine 2 Diet.