Coconut oil seems to be a new healthy food. But is it? It is known that coconut oil is very high in saturated fat. With 12 grams per tablespoon. Compare that to olive oil, which has 1.9 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. But it does have 14 grams of total fat, but almost all of olive oil is monounsaturated fat, which is widely considered to be better for the heart and cardiovascular system. Saturated fats in meats and dairy products, on the other hand, have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol linked to coronary artery disease. The vast majority of the fatty acids contained in coconut oil is saturated fatty acids, and they account for about 85% of all the fat in coconut oil. When fats contain so many saturated fatty acids, they are often solid instead of liquid, and so it is unusual for a liquid oil to contain this high proportion of them.
Saturated fatty acids in foods are usually broken down into three groups. They are either short chain, medium chain, and long chain. Unlike the long-chain saturated fatty acids (palmitic acid) found in many animal fats, the saturated fatty acids contained in coconut oil are mostly medium length. About half of all of the saturated fat in coconut oil comes from lauric acid, a medium-length saturated fatty acid.
For someone with a family history of vascular disease, researchers really don’t have a lot of good data on coconut oil’s ability to reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes. Researchers have observational data from societies that have lower heart disease rates where coconuts are a significant percentage rates and includes coconuts as a significant percentage of their diet. But they are consuming the coconut, not just the oil of the coconut. The meat of the coconut has a considerable amount of fiber. This fiber is not found in the oil, and it may be the fiber that determines that the greatest benefit from coconut consumption is in the fiber.
Coconut oil, while high in saturated fat, is in the form of lauric acid. The majority of the saturated fat in animal fat is palmitic acid. Which could suggest that coconut oil doesn’t cause the same degree of LDL elevation as animal fat.
A study published in the journal of Nutrition Reviews in 2016 analyzed multiple studies and found no difference in the LDL cholesterol level between people who used coconut oil and people who used butter. It does appear that consumption of coconut oil was linked to a lower triglyceride level as compared to beef fat. Over all, the cholesterol profiles found among consumers of coconut oil are much worse than those found among people who consumed olive oil, canola oil, or even corn, safflower and palm oil.
Both the American Medical Association and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend that coconut oil be avoided. The American Heart Association also states that the primary dietary cause of high cholesterol is the ingestion of saturated fat, and it singles out coconuts and coconut oil as examples of plant based foods that are high in saturated fat.
Other proponents of coconut oil say that because it is mostly medium-chain triglycerides, making them more easily metabolized than the long chain triglycerides. Other sources, like Kasma Loha-Unchit’s Thai Food and Travel, allege that misconceptions about coconut oil’s cholesterol effects can be traced back to a faulty 1940s study that inappropriately ascribed properties of hydrogenated coconut oil, which is less healthy, to all coconut oil.
There are a variety of types of coconut oil. Unrefined coconut oil, sometimes called “pure” or “virgin” coconut oil, unrefined coconut oil is made from fresh vs. dried coconut meat. The oil is extracted either by a quick-dry method or through a wet-mill process. Quick drying, like the name suggest, dries the coconut meat very quickly, and then the oil is pressed out mechanically. Wet milling requires that the coconut meat is processed into coconut milk, and then by boiling, straining or fermenting, and using enzymes or a centrifuge, the milk is separated from the oil. Because both processes are quick, the coconut oil does not require additives or bleaching. It also retains more coconut flavor because it is not exposed to high temperatures.
Refined coconut oil is made exclusively from dried coconut meat, which is known as copra. The meat has been bleached and treated to reduce potential bacteria in the coconut meat. Coconut oil produced from copra needs to be treated because the drying process produces contaminants in the copra. The coconut oil is then treated by a high heat process to extract the flavor and smell of the coconut from the oil, and many producers will also use chemicals to extract as much oil as possible from the coconut meat. Frequently, sodium hydroxide is added to increase shelf life, although this is not the cause with all refined coconut oils. Refined methods are sometimes partially hydrogenated, which produce trans fat. Some refined coconut oils, particularly those used for commercial baking and chocolate, are partially hydrogenated. Trans fats are produced when hydrogen is added to liquid plant-derived oils, which makes them more solid, and they can raise your low-density lipoprotein levels. High LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, heart disease or risk of having a stroke.
Organic, unrefined coconut oil is never processed with chemicals. Choosing an organic unrefined coconut oil that has not been hydrogenated is the healthiest choice, if you can find it.
According to coconut-connections.com, ingestion of coconut oil may cause diarrhea and other symptoms related to intestinal distress. In order to avoid or minimize these effects, you might begin taking coconut oil in smaller amounts and gradually work your way up to what you can tolerate. Other allergic reactions can occur as well. People who are allergic to nuts should be cautious. Mild allergic reactions consist of skin sensitivity and hives, and serious reactions may induce a potentially deadly anaphylactic reaction. Doctors can test for such allergies.