Is coconut oil good for you?
Coconut oil is not new, but it’s certainly become more popular. Many of my patients are asking me about it. It gets a lot of celebrity endorsement and is used in a lot of so called healthy recipes and blogs. It’s added to coffee and some things I have read would have you believe that the more you eat, the better it is for you. This summer, the American heart Association reviewed it and advised against its use.
So it gets confusing. Is it ok to use?
Coconut oil is a saturated fat. It’s unusual in that it is one of the only saturated fats, which doesn’t come from animals. Saturated fat should be used in moderation in a diet. That means, limiting its use to 7-10% of your total calories. The evidence is out there that eating more than this on a daily basis does increase your risk of heart disease. So that is about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil a day, or three teaspoons. If you have a family history of high cholesterol you should get your own level checked to see what your own risk factors are like. Saturated fats do increase cholesterol more than unsaturated fats and you need to know how this will affect you personally. Studies that claim coconut oil can prevent heart disease and help with weight loss were done on populations where people used a lot of coconut oil but who also ate traditional diets. This is something to be aware of.
There were also some studies published in 2003 which claimed that eating medium chained fatty acids, a type of molecule found in coconut oil, could help adults burn fat. But coconut oil is only 14% medium chain fatty acids, the participants in these studies ate a custom made fat made up of 100 percent medium chained fatty acids.
Fats are an interesting, but complicated food. How you cook with your fats, especially heating them up, is really important.
Heating is what can change the fat from a relatively benign food into potentially harmful substances. Coconut oil is a pretty stable fat so a little can be used for shallow frying. But don’t use it for deep fat frying. It has a low smoke point, which means it can release potentially carcinogenic substances when heated to high temperatures.
Using coconut oil topically on the skin or hair is another thing. There have been quite a few studies published which support it’s use. It can be helpful in skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. It can also be used to oil the hair. There is evidence that it may have some antifungal effects on the scalp. The Monolaurin, found in coconut oil has been shown to be active against yeast such as Candida Albicans. Coconut oil is also used as a mouthwash, known traditionally as ‘oil pulling’. To do this you swish around 10ml of coconut oil in your mouth between your teeth for 10 minutes a day. It certainly is safe and has no side effects. There is potential for the oil to reduce some of the mouth bacteria.
Coconut oil in moderate amounts can be useful as part of a healthy diet and I like to use it in many of my recipes. However, don’t over do it, thinking the more you have the better it is. Like everything in health, and life, there is always a balance so don’t always believe the hype. Look beneath the headlines.