Is it a dangerous saturated fat or a tropical wonder that we should use in place of olive oil?
Confusion and debate surround coconut oil. Mainstream organizations such as the American Heart Association and the National Cancer Institute recommend avoiding it because coconut oil is a saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol and cardiovascular risk. However, increasingly, alternative voices are popping up on the Internet claiming that it was unfair to lump coconut oil in with unhealthful fats during the fanatical no-fat era, and this tropical oil is really a magic elixir, a virtual fountain of youth.
To learn the truth, I consulted Udo Erasmus, PhD, author of Fats that Heal Fats that Kill (Alive Books). He told me that it is difficult to determine where science ends and marketing begins, and both camps are misleading in their one-sided approaches. As usual, the truth lies somewhere inbetween. Coconut oil is neither as bad as traditionalists would have you believe, nor is it the miraculous cure-all hawked by aggressive Internet entrepreneurs.
First, let's take a look at coconut oil as a saturated fat. Coconut oil and its tropical cousin palm oil are composed of medium-chain fatty acids that are relatively easy to digest, absorb and metabolize.
In contrast, longer-chain fatty acids in beef and dairy fats (other than butter fats, which are short-chain) place a greater burden on the liver and are more likely to lead to cholesterol and fat buildup in arteries.
In other words, while it's not exactly a health food, coconut oil has nowhere near the artery-clogging impact of hamburgers and milkshakes. Coconut oil is not an essential fat like the omega-3 fatty acids that we require for good health. However, Dr. Erasmus believes that it is a neutral fat that is safe to use in moderation, as long as you balance it by also consuming omega-3 fatty acids (abundant in cold-water fish, such as salmon and mackerel, and in walnuts).
And now for the health claims — you'll lose weight, have more energy, feel younger, and it will cure thyroid problems and banish wrinkles. Dr. Erasmus responds…
As always, there's some truth in marketing, but you have to take it with a grain (and sometimes a pillar) of salt. In the case of coconut oil's popularity, Dr. Erasmus believes that it is a fad riding on essential fatty acid research… and that, unlike coconut oil, essential fatty acids are essential to good health. That said, coconut is fine to use in moderation, and many people love its aroma. Always buy it in glass bottles (not plastic), and feel free to add a tasty tablespoon to smoothies or salad dressings.
Be well, Carole Jackson Bottom Line's Daily Health News