Question:

I love coconut oil for all my beauty needs & I eat it too! What do you think of all the hype?

– Liberty J.

Answer:

To answer your question directly: I don’t pay attention to hype, except to follow what consumer trends are so we can respond to them accordingly. Happy Reading 🙂

My professional observation is that “they” in the media provide sensational news even if it contracts their own previous reporting. But that may just be reflecting the flow of nutritional research. For example, fat was bad in the 1980’s and the Pritikin diet plan was popular. Then we found that only saturated and trans fats are bad. Now we know there are benefits to certain types of fats, like omega-3 fats. Enter the 2015 Dietary Guidelines: “A healthy eating pattern includes… oils.” You’ve got to look at the overall trend in research, not just single studies or news headlines.

Coconut oil as a consumable product is very high in saturated fats. The names of these fatty acids are known as lauric, myristic, palmitic, caprylic, capric, and stearic acid. Of these, the greatest present is lauric acid, a type of medium-chain fatty acid. Research in the last 10 years indicates supplemental coconut oil raises total cholesterol, LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. This may not lead to adverse cardiovascular outcomes, but why not do better? Replacing animal fats with omega-3 rich fats or unsaturated plant fats (they don’t raise LDL) shows cardio-protective benefits.

Coconut water and the meat of the fruit are nutritionally fine. It takes a whole cup of coconut meat to reach the fat content in just 2 Tbsp. of coconut oil, and you also get a decent amount of fiber with it. Coconut water is full of electrolytes and has negligible fat. Coconut milk, on the other hand has varying levels of fat depending on its dilution and preparation (canned for cooking vs. beverage style).

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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