Coconut Oil: Miracle or myth?

Celebrity doctors and health food enthusiasts alike are touting coconut oil as the new miracle food. From preventing Alzheimer’s disease to promoting weight loss to giving you silky-smooth skin and even soothing diaper rash, it seems like there’s nothing that coconut oil can’t do. Or is there?

Health or hype?

Coconut oil isn’t a new food, but it’s gained popularity in recent years. This is partly thanks to vegans. People who eat a vegan diet don’t consume any animal products. Coconut oil isn’t an animal fat and it’s solid at room temperature, making it an excellent vegan alternative to butter.

Scientists have also been taking a closer look at coconut oil lately. Coconut and coconut oils have long been on the nutrition naughty list since they’re high in saturated fat. One teaspoon of coconut oil contains 12 grams of saturated fat (compare this to 2 grams of saturated fat found in olive oil) — more than half the saturated fat most people should eat per day.

This type of fat is unhealthy because it clogs arteries, raises your LDL or “bad” cholesterol and ups your risk for heart disease. Plus, most processed coconut oils contain partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. This type of fat is considered to be the most harmful fat because it not only raises LDL cholesterol, but it also lowers HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.

However, some experts say that not all saturated fats are created equally. The main type of saturated fat found in coconut oil is lauric acid. Preliminary studies show that lauric acid increases the levels of HDL in the body and lowers LDL. What’s more, virgin coconut oil doesn’t contain hydrogenated oils or harmful trans fats so it’s a healthier option.

But even if you use virgin coconut oil, the jury is still out on whether or not coconut oil is good for you. There are no scientific studies to date that back up any of the health claims of coconut oil. While the nutty, vanilla flavor may taste great in a batch of cupcakes, coconut oil probably won’t rev up your metabolism, enhance your memory or clear up your acne.

Should you use coconut oil?

Like all foods and beverages, consuming coconut oil is fine in moderation. Experts are hesitant to label coconut oil as “nutritious,” but they agree that in small amounts, it probably isn’t harmful. Try substituting it for butter in baked goods, sautéeing vegetables in it or using it as a base for salad dressings. Keep in mind that coconut oil is high in fat, so use it sparingly.

There’s also probably no harm in applying coconut oil to your body. Some people say that using it as a lotion can help clear up sunburn, eczema and psoriasis. Others claim that it softens hair better than any conditioner on the market. Even if coconut oil doesn’t live up to the hype, at least you’ll smell good!

Have you tried coconut oil? I drizzle it over sweet potatoes before roasting them, and it tastes delicious!

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/coconut-oil-benefits_b_821453.html

http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1799

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coconut-oil-and-weight-loss/AN01899

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/dining/02Appe.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/trans-fat/CL00032

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