The Truth About Coconut Oil: Understanding the Facts and Controversies

Coconut cut into half

Browse any social media platform or pass by any grocery store and you’d be treated with a gamut of coconut oil preparations each claiming to provide a host of benefits.

From protection against diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease to helping individuals lose weight, there are a lot of stories venerating the many benefits of coconut oil. People also use it as smoothies as well as bulletproof coffee. But is there really truth to these claims?

The Truth About Fat in Coconut Oil

All kinds of oil contain fat; this is a fact that everyone has to live with. Each gram of fat can deliver about 9 calories of energy. Try comparing this with carbohydrates and proteins, each gram of which is capable of dishing out only 4 calories. This makes oil a very concentrated form of energy.

More than 80 per cent of the calories supplied by coconut oil come from saturated fat. To put this into perspective, olive oil only provides 14% of its calories from saturated fat while butter supplies 63% of it. This means that when it comes to the proportion of saturated fat, coconut oil has plenty of it compared to other types of oils.

But then, it is also claimed that the type of saturated fat in coconut oil is way different from those found in other oils. Specifically, it contains more medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs.

This is where the fun part begins. There are a number of researches that say MCTs are handled by the human body in a totally different way compared to other types of fats.

The Truth about Coconut Oil and Heart Health

One of the most common notions about coconut oil is its ability to improve cardiovascular health by increasing the levels of high-density lipoproteins or HDL cholesterol.

ever, one should also keep in mind that it contains at least 80% saturated fats which essentially mean bumping up one’s LDL cholesterol levels as well.

While an increase in HDL cholesterol can help lower the risk of cardiovascular events, taking coconut oil doesn’t address the lowering of LDL cholesterol. As such, one can always look at the HDL-cholesterol-boosting effects of coconut oil as a way of negating the increase in LDL-cholesterol.

If one wants to lower the risk of heart disease, saturated fats – including those coming from coconut oil – are not the answer. Unsaturated fats coming from olive oil and nuts should be your main focus.

Proponents of coconut oil always cite the general observation that Sri Lankans and Polynesians who include coconut products in their diet have lower incidence rates of heart disease.

Unfortunately, they also fail to recognise the possibility that these people are not necessarily consuming coconut oil per se, but rather the whole coconut especially the meat.

Additionally, other factors may also come into play such as genetics, activities of daily living, and overall diet. Comparing the lifestyle of these people to those in the Western hemisphere, one can easily identify a number of differences that can significantly impact heart health. Sadly, this has nothing to do with consuming coconut oil.

The Truth about Coconut Oil and Weight Loss

Fans of coconut oil say that this substance can help in weight loss efforts by suppressing the adipogenic genes in the body. What they are saying is that MCTs can somehow affect the way the body stores fat in adipose tissues.

What one needs to understand is that there are different mechanisms involved in the deposition of fatty acids in adipose tissues.

Some get converted from glucose while others are products of other metabolic processes. People also say that MCTs can increase the number of calories burned by around 5 per cent over 24 hours.

However, in the absence of other weight loss measures such as more sensible dieting and feeding practices as well as regular exercise, it is very doubtful whether coconut oil can help you lose weight. One should keep in mind the vast amount of calories that a tablespoon of coconut oil can bring to the table.

If one doesn’t make a conscious effort to minimise his or her calorie consumption or even have the discipline to burn them, losing weight might as well be a losing battle.

Coconut oil does have its benefits. But, to consider it as a cure-all or a wonder substance is clearly bloating its potential.

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