Coconut oil is all the rage right now, but what’s all the hoopla about?

After all, coconut oil contains predominantly saturated fat, right? And saturated fat is still bad, right? Maybe not. There’s a profound quote often cited by scientists that goes something like this, “half of everything we know is wrong, we just don’t know which half yet.” It’s beginning to seem as though the connections we’ve attributed to dietary saturated fats and cardiovascular disease aren’t so strong. Several literature reviews have been published in recent years which show no significant association, such as this review of over 130 studies, “The adverse health effects that have been associated with saturated fats in the past are most likely due to factors other than SFAs” (Lawrence, 2013).

Moreover, some people fear that coconut oils contain hydrogenated oil, and thus, trans fats. This is not entirely a misconception, as some highly refined coconut oils are hydrogenated. However, these products are either non-existent or at least very rare in the US. When in doubt, read the ingredients list; if it says the words hydrogenated or trans fats, stay away.

More importantly, the particular saturated fats found in great abundance in coconut oil, are of the short and medium chain variety. These fatty acids have several health benefits: They tend to raise HDL cholesterol (the one we generally agree is best to be high), as well as increase satiety and energy expenditure (St-Onge, 2002). In this way, coconut oil can be helpful in curbing hunger as well as increasing overall energy use.

But the benefits don’t stop there! Some of these medium chain saturated fats found in coconut oil are even anti-microbial. They have been shown to kill several species of Candida fungus, and are becoming a popular means of improving dental health (via oil pulling – where coconut oil is swished around in one’s mouth for ~20 minutes per day).

Furthermore, because coconut oil contains a high proportion of saturated fats, they hold up very well to medium heat, which make them a particularly good choice for sautéing. Since they do impart a flavor which isn’t always welcomed, you’ll have to experiment with your palate to see what foods pair well.

By Ian, student intern

References:

Shilling M1, Matt L, Rubin E, Visitacion MP, Haller NA, Grey SF, Woolverton CJ. (2013). Antimicrobial Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil and its Medium-chain Fatty Acids on Clostridium Difficile. Journal of Medicinal Food. Vol. 12:1079-85.

Lawrence GD. (2013). Dietary Fats and Health: Dietary Recommendation in the Context of Scientific Evidence. Advances in Nutrition. Vol. 4(3): 294-302.

St-Onge, M.P., and Jones, P.J. (2002) Physiological Effects of Medium-Chain Triglycerides: Potential Agents in the Prevention of Obesity. Journal of Nutrition. Vol. 132(3): 329-332.

Huang CB1, Alimova Y, Myers TM, Ebersole JL. (2011). Short- and Medium-chain Fatty Acids Exhibit Antimicrobial Activity for Oral Microorganisms. Archives of Oral Biology. Vol. 56(7): 650-4.

Ogbolu, D.O., Oni, A.A., Daini, O.A. and Oloko, A.P. (2007). In Vitro Antimicrobial Properties of Coconut Oil on Candid Species. Journal of Medicinal Food. vol. 10(2): 384-87.


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