Let’s start with the positives.
When I cook at home, I love Asian flavors. Every other day there’s some sort of Thai, Indian or Korean dish coming out of my kitchen. For these purposes, I love using coconut oil on the occasion to cook my veggies and proteins.
However, the (inaccurate) claim that coconut oil is somehow more healthful than well-established oils like olive and canola oil is an uphill battle I’ve been fighting for a few years now.
Celebrity trainers and “health coaches” now apparently know more than the American Heart Association (even though they’ve always been a perfectly reputable source in the past to these same professionals) and are even claiming that having high LDL cholesterol “isn’t necessarily bad for you”.
They even go so far as to claim that it has this insanely mystical ability to make you burn body fat.
*heavy face palm*
Many people have a vested interest in digging up any badly-constructed study they can to “prove” coconut oil is healthy because they either sell coconut oil for their own profit or just don’t want to admit that they’ve been wrong in their recommendations.
This, however, is dangerous,, I’m here to tell you the truth.
Let me break it down for you.
What is Coconut Oil and Why Are People Obessesed with It?
The star feature of coconut oil that makes it so magical is its content of medium-chain triglycerides. Supporters claim that they not only help you burn fat, but can also lower your risk of heart disease.
BUT, a rule of thumb is any fat solid at room temperature is high in saturated fat (Crisco, lard, butter, etc.). This is because fats that have the chemical structure that allows it to be solid also solidifies in your arteries when you eat too much.
You know what that’s called?
You know what category coconut oil falls under? A saturated fat. If you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you know I’m not lyin’!
Let’s dive even deeper.
There are three different types of fatty acids: Short, medium and long-chain. These names describe their chemical structure. The most common types found in foods are long-chain, which take longer to digest because of their long chain. This increases the possibility of the fat being stored as fat tissue when you’re eating too many calories.
Coconut oil, however, contains medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs, which are easily broken down by the liver and more easily absorbed. Since MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat because they are absorbed relatively quickly, it’s been credited as a “better” source of fat that some studies say can even supercharge your metabolism.
But there’s a catch.
What the Science Says
Studies have indeed found that subjects who ate medium-chain triglycerides burned more fat. However, these studies had subjects eating MCTs that were 8 and 10 carbons long in chemical structure. The problem is, these types of fats only make up 15% of the MCTs in commercially available coconut oil.
To make matters worse, they were isolated just for these studies. This means that the subjects were eating a special form of fat extracted from coconut oil and created just for the study. Basically, a hyper-concentrated form of MCTs that aren't available to the general public.
So, the supposed “fat burning” type of dietary fat these studies are promoting is only naturally present in the coconut oil you find at Whole Foods in small amounts. Therefore, you’d have to eat a whole hell of a lot (and gain a hefty amount of weight plus clog your arteries in the process) to get the same benefits
Which... sort of defeats the purpose?
Let me put it into these terms: a fast food biscuit has about the same amount of MCTs as 1 serving of coconut oil, but would you be shoveling down biscuits to lose weight?
I don’t think so.
I will say, you can buy MCT oil, but unlike the coconut oil you find at your grocery store, it's liquid at room temperature and therefore, lower in saturated fat -- which is my entire point here!
That said, I still wouldn’t recommend drinking the stuff for weight loss’s sake. And to be honest, I”m not entirely convinced even MCT oil has magical fat-burning abilities. You’re better off just watching your calories and choosing healthy fats like avocado and olive oil in your daily diet.
The bottom line?
I’m not totally demonizing the stuff. Like I said in the beginning, I LOVE using coconut oil in my Asian dishes. BUT, even with its content of MCTs, there’s a lot of saturated fat that comes along with it and any professional that tells you to consume it in place of healthier, unsaturated fats shouldn’t be practicing, in my opinion.
Remember: One tablespoon of any type of fat, healthy or no, delivers about 120 calories. To lose weight, you must be mindful of how many calories you’re eating, regardless of the source.