You may have noticed that coconut oil has been gaining popularity in recent years. There are plenty of health claims stating that coconut is the latest cure-all from heart disease to cancer, but what are the facts?
There are two types of fats. Unsaturated fats come from plants and vegetable oils, including nuts, avocados, seeds, and olive oil. These types of fats are liquid at room temperature and are healthier for your heart. Saturated fats come from animal products and tropical oils, including coconut oil, meat, and dairy. They are usually solid at room temperature and are an unhealthy type of fat, because they raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels and increase your risk of coronary artery disease. According to the American Heart Association and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, saturated fats should be limited to 7% to 10% of calories, because they can raise your risk for heart disease.
There are two main types of coconut oil: virgin and refined. Virgin coconut oil is extracted from the fruit of a fresh, mature coconut without using high temperatures or chemicals. It is high in lauric acid, which is a medium chain fatty acid that raises both “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels. Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat that has often been chemically bleached and deodorized. Whether coconut oil is virgin or refined, it is 92% saturated fat, which is higher than butter. One tablespoon of coconut oil provides 117 calories and 13.6 grams of fat, including 11.8 grams of saturated fat. Virgin coconut oil is gaining popularity in cooking because it has a sweet, nutty flavor and aroma. Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, does not have much flavor. Although coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it doesn’t contain trans-fat, which does make it a better choice than shortening.
Is coconut oil healthy or unhealthy? If you are interested in using coconut oil, choose virgin coconut oil and do so in moderation. For the best heart health benefits, switch from saturated fats to unsaturated fats by using vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn, or olive oil.