The Coconut Controversy

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Every time you turn on the news, open up a magazine, browse the internet, or walk into a supermarket, there seems to be a new health fad or a new super food that everyone is raving about. Coconut products, specifically coconut oil, seem to be all the rage lately in the health and fitness industry. Marketers and celebrities alike have hopped on the bandwagon, promoting coconut oil and marketing all of its claimed health benefits. However, several nutrition professionals are quick to shy away from recommending supplementation of this tropical fruit. Registered dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, co-founder of Appetite for Health, claims that, ai???coconut oil isnai??i??t all that itai??i??s cracked up to be.ai??? With coconut products and coconut oil being such a hot topic, Foodie On Campus dug a little deeper to help sort through the confusion and investigated coconut oil to figure out if it truly is the new ai???miracle food.ai???

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What is coconut oil?

Coconut oil is the oil extracted from the meat of matured coconuts. Coconut oil, just like any other oil, is a fat and has nine calories per gram; moreover, 92% of the fatty acid profile in coconut oil is saturated fat. Coconut oil has a long shelf life and is a stable fat, making it is safe to heat to high temperatures. However, coconut oil differs from other saturated fats because of the length of its fatty acids; coconut oil is primarily made up of medium chain triglycerides versus long chain triglycerides, which causes coconut oil to metabolize in the body differently than other saturated fats.

Where is coconut oil found?

Coconut oil can be found in a wide variety of foods including candies, baked goods ice cream, soups, stews, and several ethnic dishes. On the other spectrum, coconut oil is commonly found in several cosmetics such as hair, skin, and beauty products. Besides coconut oil, coconut water, coconut milk, coconut sugar, coconut flour, and even coconut oil supplements, can all be found on the shelves of health food stores.

photo 2-3Saturated fat and the American Heart Association

While coconut oil does have health benefits, it is nonetheless a saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of daily calories, which is about 16 grams of saturated fat a day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Saturated fats have been found to increase levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body. Coconut oil, a saturated fat, has been found to increase LDL levels (bad cholesterol) while at the same time increasing HDL levels (good cholesterol) in the human body. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer, Joey Gochnour, explains that theoretically,Ai??sinceAi??saturated fat is naturally made in the human body from excess calories, and in some cases, it possibly could be necessary for people to consume saturated fat from dietary sources such as coconut oil, specifically those who lead vigorously active lifestyles and who do not consume enough fat or calories in general.

Health Claims

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Several celebrities glorify coconut oil and claim that it is the new ai???miracle food.ai??? By aiding in weight loss, lessening the effects of Alzheimerai??i??s disease, preventing infections, strengthening the immune system, curing thyroid disease, boosting energy, curing cancer and helping to lower the risk of heart disease ai??i?? coconut oil supposedly does it all. With all of these amazing health claims, you may be thinking to yourself, why wouldnai??i??t you want to include coconut oil into your diet? But, do all of these claimed health benefits have any scientific evidence to back them up? Registered dietitian and Nutrition Unplugged blogger, Janet Helm, points out the lack and scientific evidence to support the medicinal properties of coconut oil. Rather than health organizations, the major promoters of coconut products are coconut-producing countries.

The bottom line

Coconut oil is perfectly okay to use while cooking ethnic dishes or in baked goods, and since coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is a good vegan alternative to use in place of butter. However, coconut oil is a fat, and just like any other fat, it should be consumed in moderation with a well-balanced diet. The bottom line is that there is not enough scientific evidence to back up all of the claimed health benefits of coconut oil; so, donai??i??t go consuming spoonfuls of coconut oil with the intent of shedding pounds or significantly benefiting your health. Helm says it perfectly: ai???Eat coconuts because you enjoy them ai??i?? not because you think they can work miracles.ai???

Photo Credit: Laura Asbury, Dakota Howe

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One Comment

  1. Very helpful and Great information,
    we appreciate advise especially coming from a professional.
    Thanks again and keep up the great work!
    Read more at http://vibrantwave.com/coconut-oil-benefits/