This question is being asked again and again — and so many people are confused because 82 percent of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, and you have probably heard many times that saturated fat is bad for cholesterol and heart health. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death, but is it really strongly linked to saturated fat consumption, or does it go deeper than that?
Just recently, the American Heart Association issued a statement saying that coconut is not a healthy source of fat, because it affects our LDL cholesterol levels. When it comes to cholesterol, it’s important to understand that the type of cholesterol we consume is more important than the quantity. LDL cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol, and its small, dense particles can increase cardiovascular disease.
Foods that contain higher levels of saturated fat usually become solid at room temperature — for example animal products, butter, and coconut oil. But foods such as baked goods, doughnuts, bacon, ice cream and fries also contain saturated fat.
Is it misleading to say that coconut oil is not good for our health?
Coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also known as MCT oil. They are easily digestible and converted into energy quicker than other fat sources. They also contain 47 percent lauric acid. But it’s important to be aware that MCT and lauric acid content can change depending on the quality of the products you use. For example, extra virgin coconut oil may contain higher levels of MCTs, which your body burns and converts to energy more rapidly. Additionally, this can increase the levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, reduce inflammation, improve memory and boost the immune system.
So clearly I don’t think that coconut oil is unhealthy for us! But I’d also like to explain that the AHA might be partially saying the truth, because coconut oil may increase the absorption of endotoxins, a toxin that is present inside a bacterial cell. Also, consuming high levels of MCT oil may decrease EPA and DHA, known as omega 3, within the body.
I normally use coconut oil for cooking. If I need to increase my energy, or for extra clarity, I may add it to my tea too. We must keep in mind that the effects it has on us really depend on the type of food we consume it with.
Our body’s needs are all different, depending on our body type, digestive health, how many meals we consume per day etc. All of these questions, and many more, need first to be answered in order to really understand if coconut oil is good or bad for us. Thus, I always believe that we need to learn to listen to our body, so that we can truly understand what is helping us and what is not.
However, if you eat lots of refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, baked goods and simple sugars then it’s not a good idea to consume lots of saturated fat, including coconut oil. If that’s the case, then monounsaturated fat sources, such as extra virgin olive oil, would be a better choice for you!
Remember, we create our body with the food that we eat, so the most important thing is to ask yourself, after eating, is whether you feel energized or tired. Then you can make the best, conscious decision for you!
Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. She can be reached at DietDocHawaii.com, Ayda@DietDocHawaii.com or (808) 276-6892