Q. Recently I was surprised to hear that coconut oil may be good for me. Is this true?
A. Yes. Despite what you’ve probably heard over the past 20 years, coconut oil, a saturated fat, may actually have numerous health benefits.
Saturated fats, which have been labeled “bad” fats, can increase the risk of heart disease. Coconut oil has been included in the list of “bad” fats not only because it’s a saturated fat, but also because previous research demonstrated that animals fed diets high in hydrogenated coconut oil had increased cholesterol and other indicators of atherosclerosis. However, nonhydrogenated coconut oil has unique properties as a saturated fat that can help support the immune system, may prevent heart disease, and may help obese people lose weight.
Coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT), chemically different from saturated fats found in beef, chicken, or dairy foods. According to nutritionist Mary Enig, author of the book “Know Your Fats,” coconut oil contains lauric acid, a compound converted in the body to monolaurin, a fatty acid with anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
A study dating back to 1981, published in the American Journal Clinical Nutrition, looked at two populations of Polynesians living on the islands of Pukapuka and Tokelau who ingest a high-coconut diet. “Vascular disease is uncommon in both populations,” the authors concluded, “and there is no evidence of the high saturated fat intake having a harmful effect in these populations.”
Another study, published in the journal Metabolism in 2003, found that consumption of MCTs, phytosterols (cholesterol-lowering compounds), and omega-3 fatty acids (essential fats) reduced overall risk of cardiovascular disease in overweight women.
The Journal of Nutrition published a study in 2003 showing that a coconut-oil- based diet reduced lipoprotein(a) levels in women, compared with a diet rich in unsaturated fats. Note: high lipoprotein(a) levels are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
A study published in Obesity Research in 2003 found that MCT-rich diets resulted in greater loss of upper body fat tissue. The authors reported that “MCTs may be considered as agents that aid in the prevention of obesity or potentially stimulate weight loss.”
Coconut oil has the added benefit of tasting great, and it’s safe to cook with: When heated, it doesn’t break down into free radicals that can damage your tissues. In contrast, polyunsaturated fats like corn and soy oils result in increased free radical formation when heated.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com