Coconut oil comes from whole coconuts and is mostly saturated fat. Advocates of using coconut oil argue that the oil is a unique type of saturated fat that does not contribute to health problems. The Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association both recommend you avoid saturated fats to protect heart health and prevent weight gain.
Saturated Fat Content
One tbsp. of coconut oil contains 14 g of fat, 12 g of which is classified as saturated. Compare this to olive oil, which also contains 14 g of fat per tbsp., but with 12 g unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are considered favorable to your health because they may contribute to lower blood cholesterol, especially when used to replace saturated fats.
Medium-Chain Fatty Acids
The saturated fat in coconut oil is not like that found in animal products. Coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid, while animal fats are long-chain fatty acids. Medium-chain fatty acids may not negatively affect cholesterol and may also help reduce your risk of heart disease. Medium-chain fatty acids are used directly by the body to create energy. Coconut oil is one of the few dietary sources of medium-chain fatty acids.
Tropical populations consume diets with a large amount of coconut oil without increased incidence of heart disease. A study in the journal “Lipids,” published in July 2009 found that when women consumed 30 ml of coconut oil daily for 12 weeks as part of a low-calorie diet and daily walking program, they experienced no increases in cholesterol. These female study participants also lost weight around their mid-section. An earlier study published in "Clinical Biochemistry" in September 2004 found that rats fed virgin coconut oil experienced more favorable cholesterol levels after 45 days. These and other studies, however, have not yet met the FDA's standards to approve recommending coconut oil for the average diet.
Most of the coconut oil used in snack products and coffee creamers is partially hydrogenated, making it a trans fat. These versions of coconut oil should be avoided completely, as trans fats both increase your levels of bad cholesterol and decrease the good levels. Coconut oil may also contain immunity enhancing compounds in the form of lauric acid.
- "The Ceylon Medical Journal"; Coconut Fats; W.A. Amarasiri, et al.; June 2006
- Coconut Research Center; Coconut; 2004
- “Clinical Biochemistry”; Beneficial Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil on Lipid Parameters and in Vitro LDL Oxidation; K. G. Nevin, et al.; Sept. 2004
- "Lipids"; Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity; M.L. Assuncoo, et al.; July 2009
- USDA: Nutrient Database