Coconut oil has been trending over the past few years. But just like the fashion trends of the 80's, it does not always mean that it is a good idea! Many of my clients are head over heels for coconut oil and all its magical benefits - from weight loss, lowering cholesterol levels, improved digestion, satiety and even cancer prevention. Like with many nutrition topics, the issue of coconut oil and health is very confusing, and the media does not always help when they jump to quick conclusions based on emerging research. Let's consider how some of these coconut oil claims measure up to good science.
#1 Does coconut oil help with weight loss?
There's no solid evidence currently to recommend coconut oil as a weight loss aid. There is some evidence that MCT oil can help with weight loss. But MCT oil and coconut oil are not same things and research shows coconut oil does not have the same thermogenic effect as MCT oil. A lot of coconut oil claims are based on studies using MCT oils, and not coconut oil. The MCT oil used in nearly all the available research is made up entirely of C8 and C10 fatty acids. Although coconut oil is the largest food source of MCTs, only about 15% are C8 or C10. The rest are C12, which has not been proven to have the same effect. You would have to eat a massive amount of coconut oil to get the percentage of C8 and C10 MCTs shown to help with weight loss.
#2 Does coconut oil reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk?
Although research shows that coconut oil may raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels, a 2016 review of literature shows that it also increases LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition, coconut oil is 92% saturated fat, which most experts agree should be consumed in limited amounts. There are a lot of studies out there, but simply no strong proof that coconut oil is good for heart health. Data are strong and consequent in demonstrating that mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids are better choices.
#3 Does coconut oil reduce cravings?
A few studies investigated this and found that coconut oil did not help with satiety, fullness or satisfaction in the same way MCT oil does. But eating any type of fat can be filling - so maybe this is where the theory comes from!
Which oil do I use for cooking?
I use a high-quality cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil for everyday cooking and baking. Extra virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants that help keep the oil stable at hot temperatures, up to 200 °C.
Store your extra virgin olive oil in a cool place and use within 6 weeks to ensure it remains high in antioxidants.
Coconut oil may be okay to use here and there, but it's not a miracle food that the media makes it out to be. If you use coconut oil, rather use moderate amounts from time to time, and use mono-unsaturated cooking oils too, and do not rely on coconut oil solely for cooking, baking etc.
There's still much to discover about coconut oil and fats in general. Keep an eye out for new research. For now, I am cautious of coconut oil until more high-quality research emerges that proves otherwise.