Recently, coconut oil has been hailed as a “wonder-oil” with many health benefits. It has been touted as a cure for eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, heart disease and gastrointestinal disorders, aiding weight loss, increasing immunity and fighting infections. Coconut oil contains about 44% lauric acid, which has been known to have some antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. While it has been known to increase good cholesterol (HDL), it also increases bad cholesterol (LDL) levels.
Coconut oil has a sweet, nutty flavor and is obtained from the mature fruit of the coconut tree. Vegan diets use coconut oil instead of butter or shortening as it is solid at room temperature. It contains approximately 91% saturated fat. Higher consumption of saturated fats has been associated with increased risk of heart disease. Due to its high saturated fat content, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming coconut oil in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends reducing saturated fat intake to about 5-6% of total daily caloric intake for persons who need to lower their cholesterol levels.
Moderate intake of saturated fat, less than 10% of the total daily calories – approximately 15 grams, is considered safe. To get an idea, there are about 10-12 grams of saturated fats in half a cup of ice-cream, 1.5 tablespoons of butter or 1 tablespoon of coconut oil.
It is a good idea to substitute some saturated fats in the diet with mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) as these fats can increase good cholesterol levels while decreasing bad cholesterol levels. Using a combination of MUFA (10-15% of total daily calories), PUFA (10% of total daily calories) and saturated fats – in moderation, is the current recommendation. Olive oil, avocados, sesame oil, canola oil, almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts are good sources of MUFA. PUFA-rich foods include sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil.
While coconut oil is not a nutrient superhero, it isn’t a nutrient “supervillain” either. Consuming it in reasonable amounts may be safe, but as of now, there is no scientific evidence showing its need as a supplement or super food. A good rule of thumb to follow, as with anything food-related, is to eat and enjoy foods in moderation!