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Coconut Oil in Your Diet

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April 22, 2019

Amy: Today, we’re talking about coconut oil in your diet.  Hello, I’m Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm & Family.  Today, we’re speaking with Paige Clawser, Mississippi State University dietetic Intern.

In the last few years coconut oil has become a huge hit for those striving to eat healthier. What is it all this rave about coconut oil? Is it as healthy as people say it is?

Paige: Yeah, coconut oil has really taken off over the last few years. Almost everyone now has heard of coconut and it’s health claims. People are absolutely swearing by it and using it for everything. Coconut oil is pretty much 90% saturated fat. And saturated fats do not have a good rap…since they’re main contributors to a lot diseases and comorbidities. But there has been a lot of research and discussion on coconut oil that says the types of saturated fats in coconut oil may be better for us and there are a lot of potential benefits from consuming coconut oil.

Amy: Tell us, what is the difference between the ‘normal’ saturated fats that people know about and the saturated fats in coconut oil?

Paige: True coconut oil is made up of medium-chain triglycerides or MCT for short. Fatty acids can come in a variety of lengths. These are saturated fats that have a shorter chain structure, which are quickly absorbed and used by the body. When we think saturated fats we typically think of them as solid at room temperature, such as butter or margarine, where as our mono-polyunsaturated oils are liquid at room temperature, think vegetable oils, olive oil and canola oil. MCT, which is a primary component of coconut oil is in fact saturated, but is liquid at room temperature, which kind of defies what we typically think about oils. So there is a lot of theory that surrounds this special saturated fat…because these types of saturated fats are absorbed quick and used for energy, it potentially promotes satiety and prevents fat storage. After doing some research, it seems that this theory can only apply to a special form of coconut oil – not the commercialized oils that most people would buy at the store.

Amy: What are some of these benefits that you mentioned coconut oil having?

Paige: A lot of the talk of health benefits around coconut oil is not necessarily well-researched information. There is potential for coconut oil to have a beneficial effect on heart disease, weight loss, and blood cholesterol. It’s also shown to raise LDL cholesterol and possibly have adverse effects, so there is some controversy there. If you are choosing a cardioprotective eating pattern then it is important to talk to your health care provider before adding coconut oil or other forms of fat to your typical eating pattern

Amy: It doesn’t sound like coconut oil is all that it is hyped up to be, huh? What is your professional opinion about coconut oil and how should we include it in our diet, if at all?

Paige: Based on the research out there, I would not swear by coconut oil magical powers – which some people totally do. Coconut, in general, has a lot of awesome health benefits – especially pertaining to skin and hair. There has been a lot of talk about how people in so-and-so country or island are super healthy and that they eat coconut all the time. This is true, they eat the entire coconut – the meat, water, and all. They’re not using the processed oils that people are swearing by. They are probably seeing a lot of benefits from coconut because of their lifestyle and using that available source of food. To those interested in coconut oil, I would recommend that they minimize consumption. There is more known about the adverse effects of saturated fats that are prevalent in coconut oil than anything. Should they use it at all? Sure! I don’t think incorporating it into food or meals in small amounts is bad, especially if no disease or comorbidity is already present. If there is already a health risk or disease present, I would say to avoid coconut oil and stick with the oils that provide a majority unsaturated fats, such as olive, sunflower, and canola oil. There are still diseases where MCT oil can be super beneficial so I would say it’s something to discuss with a health care provider if you do have an existing condition.

Department: Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion

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