A recent article in USA Today titled “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” prompted a reader to write to me asking for clarification. There has been so much written about coconut oil in the popular media recently, with the overriding theme being that it is the elixir of life and something we should all be using daily.
Five facts about coconut oil:
1. One hundred grams of coconut oil contains about 860 calories, or about a third of the daily calorie requirement for a active 6’ tall firefighter and about half the daily calories needed for the average slightly active 5’6” woman!
One popular recommendation is to take a tablespoon a day of coconut oil for weight loss…. This resulted from a study which used a ‘designer’ oil packed with 100% Medium chain fatty acids which concluded that MCFA’s “may” increase the rate of metabolism more than Long Chain Fatty Acids such as are found in butter, beef and pork fat. It is an error to extrapolate this to coconut oil which has only about 15% MCFA’s. A later study by the same researcher was inconclusive on the role of coconut oil in weight loss. 95% of MCFA’s are absorbed directly into the liver, meaning they become immediately available as energy and are not easily stored as fat. This does not mean they are a easy route to weight loss.
If you are still thinking of trying coconut oil to lose weight, consider this. Most people do not measure a tablespoon accurately and just tend to scoop a big glob out of the jar. So I did an experiment, and found that a scoop of coconut oil straight from the jar, using a tablespoon, actually weighed about 25g - thus over 200 calories. Over one month that would add up to well over 6000 extra calories taken, or the equivalent of 2 pounds of body fat. The problem being, that if you add that to your diet, you are unlikely to decrease your intake elsewhere by the same amount of calories. Over one year, you could gain 24 pounds!
2. Coconut oil is comprised mostly of saturated fat (somewhere between 82 & 95%). It contains no vitamins and no fibre.
3. Medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil do have some anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
4. Coconut oil increases LDL (the bad cholesterol) which is why it is now being slammed as being unhealthy for us. The American Heart Association’s Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory stated that they couldn't see a difference between coconut oils and other oils high in saturated fats such as butter or beef fat. The organization confirms that increased LDL is a cause of cardiovascular disease and since coconut oil has “no known offsetting favourable effects, we advise against its use.”
5. Coconut oil also increases the good cholesterol known as HDL and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to good cholesterol which confers important health benefits and protection against cardiovascular disease.This is confirmed by Dr Qi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.