Thursday, 20 February 2014

Is coconut oil healthy?


By Liz Atkins


At Healthy Food Guide we get a lot of enquiries about coconut oil. Is it better for you than other oils, is it really full of antioxidants, can it help you lose weight, and do all those coconut-crazed celebrities know something the rest of us don’t? It certainly seems to be taking up a lot of supermarket shelf space at the moment…

So the facts are these: coconut oil is high in saturated 
fat – a typical level tablespoon has 135kcal and 15g fat, 
of which 13g are saturated (it also has small amounts of monounsaturates and polyunsaturates). We shouldn’t be eating more than 20g saturates a day if we want to reduce the risk of raising bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, and thus the chances of heart disease.

But here the waters get a little muddied... Virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid, a type of saturated fat that’s sub-classified as a medium-chain fatty acid. This, say scientists, can lead to a rise in both bad and good (HDL) cholesterol levels in our blood. So, despite being rich in saturated fat, virgin coconut oil may actually have a neutral - or even beneficial - effect on overall blood cholesterol levels. At least, that’s what early research is suggesting. But it’s far from conclusive.

Research into other health benefits, including its effect on weight loss, is limited. Virgin coconut oil does appear to contain some antioxidants but, if you’re eating a balanced, varied diet that includes plenty of fruit and veg each day, you shouldn’t be going short on these.

Sadly, like all other oils, it’s high in calories, so if you’re watching your weight, you need to restrict the amount you use. Skinnier-than-average celebrities, remember, tend to eat very little of anything, coconut oil included. The government recommends sticking below 70g total fat and 20g saturated fat each day.

Still curious?
If you want to try it, we recommend you go for virgin coconut oil, which comes from the fruit of the ripe coconut flesh. It’s an unrefined fat, ie no chemicals are used and it’s not heated to high temperatures. Avoid both refined and partially hydrogenated coconut oil: they’re likely to contain trans fats, which appear to be even more damaging to our bodies than saturated fats.

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