It seems as though everyone is crazy for coconut oil right now, especially in the blogging and social media world. Surely you’ve seen some pin or article being shared on your Facebook feed to the amazing health benefits and many uses for coconut oil. I, myself, completely bought into coconut oil the fad without truly understanding why. I clicked through on some pins and found out that not only could I use coconut oil to cook with, but that I should be consuming a teaspoon or two of coconut oil daily for numerous health benefits. I could also use it as a moisturizer, a hair mask for deep conditioning, for shoe polish, wood polish, to treat lice, and even as a cure for athlete’s foot among many, many other things. The absolutely astronomical amount of claimed health benefits and uses for coconut oil seemed to be a little too good to be true, so while I’m on my research kick I decided to look more into these coconut oil claims.
My gut instinct now is that coconut oil is just another buzz topic and trend in the health and beauty industry. I want to break down for you what I’ve learned about different oils and fats and what is good for you and why. My husband has always bugged me that we should only buy canola oil as we are canola growers. This is not a blog post to persuade you to purchase only canola oil, facts are facts and I plan on sharing them!
The Facts on Fats
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, canola oil contains the lowest amount of saturated fat of any vegetable oil, and soybean & olive oil are kind of in the middle for saturated fats, as you can see in this chart. So what are the different dietary fats?
Harmful Dietary Fats
- Saturated Fat –Mainly comes from animal sources of food and it raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and may also increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes
- Trans Fat – Most are made during food processing which creates fats that are easier to cook with and less likely to spoil than naturally occurring oils. These trans fats are called industrial or synthetic trans fats. Research studies show that synthetic trans fat can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy HDL cholesterol. This can increase your risk of heart disease.
Healthier Dietary Fats
- Monounsaturated Fats – Found in a variety of foods and oils & studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease and also may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes. Other foods high in this fat are avocados & nuts.
- Polyunsaturated Fat – This is a type of fat found mostly in plant-based foods and oils. Evidence shows that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. PUFAs may also help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. One type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, may be especially beneficial to your heart. Omega-3s, found in some types of fatty fish, appear to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. They may also protect against irregular heartbeats and help lower blood pressure levels. [source]
The Slick on Coconut Oil
As far as nutrition and health, coconut oil is low in cholesterol and contains lauric acid, but it is not known whether or not lauric acid aids in health benefits or works as a medicine as many claim it does. It seems as though the jury is out on lauric acid too! There have been no studies or peer-reviewed research on the reduction or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms using coconut oil until recently, so it would be false to claim that coconut oil does reduce sypmtoms of Alzheimer’s, but obviously researchers are interested enough to look into this further.
There is no justification for adding it [coconut oil] to the diet on top of the usual consumption of other fats. There is no credible evidence to support any of the many health benefits claimed for using it as a supplement. –Harriet Hall
I do think coconut oil does fit in nicely in the beauty world as a natural product. I have personally tried coconut oil as for diaper rashes and for Ethan’s eczema, and for him it made everything worse. Does this conclude that it’s bad for skin conditions? Absolutely not! But for Ethan it is. I have been hesitant to try it on my skin as I don’t want to add extra oil, especially to my face. Another fact about coconut oil is that it is higher in medium chain triglycerides, making it unique because it is easier to absorb for some people and does provide quick energy and nourishes the body. A lot of people (myself included) prefer the taste of coconut oil to others. To me, canola oil doesn’t have much of a taste, but I cannot stand cooking with extra-virgin olive oil as the taste is awful. It’s really quite subjective!
It can be really hard as a consumer to weed through all of the information on the internet, especially when it comes to our health. You’ll see Dr. Oz promoting anything that comes with a paycheck in his name, and people assume he’s credible because he is “Oprah’s doctor”, but he continually disregards scientific evidence. I’ve touched on fear-marketing that takes advantage of the (innocently) ignorant consumer, and I am constantly annoyed at all the misleading information on our food these days such as “gluten free” labels on food that never contained gluten in the first place.
The fact of this matter is, the healthier dietary fats are liquid at room temperature vs. solid at room temperature like coconut oil, and many health organizations advise against the consumption of high amounts of coconut oil due to its high levels of saturated fat, including Health Canada, Heart & Stroke Foundation, the United States Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, American Heart Association, and many more.
While I assure you that I’m not coconut oil bashing, I personally will be rethinking how much I use it and what I use it for, especially in regards to cooking and consumption. I don’t think coconut oil is a bad product, but I also don’t think it’s as “miraculous” as it’s portrayed either. So as with most things in life – enjoy in moderation!
Update June 2017: The American Heart Association has just released a report advising against the use of coconut oil. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association