Coconut oil has been getting a good bit of press lately. People use it on their hair, face and in cooking. So what is this mystery oil all about?
Coconut oil is the oil extracted from the meat of the coconut. Oddly enough, this oil is a plant-based saturated fat. Saturated fats are termed this because they are “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. These fats are typically solid at room temperature. Most saturated fats are found in meats and animal products. The biggest difference between this plant-based saturated fat and one found in meat is the triglycerides it contains. Coconut oil has mostly small and medium chain triglycerides (MCT) where as, most saturated fats contain long chain triglycerides (LCT). The good thing about MCT is that it is quickly burned in the body upon ingestion. LCT has to travel through the circulatory system before being burned, which allows for the loss of some fat deposits onto surrounding tissues during travel.
For the most part, we are currently recommending that most saturated fats in the diet get replaced with unsaturated fats like, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, etc. This is again to avoid the transfer of fat deposits during the travel of saturated fats. However, because coconut oil doesn’t contain as many of these LCT, we are seeing that more research on this product needs to be done.
A perk of not having many LCT means that coconut oil has a neutral effect on blood lipids like cholesterol. This is important, as cardiovascular disease is a major issue in our society. There is even some research that coconut oil could help increase HDL or “good cholesterol”, which protects against heart disease.
Overall, there are some very beneficial properties to coconut oil. However, not enough studies have been done for us to replace our entire fat intake with this product. The best bet is to have a variety of healthy oils that can be used in your diet and including coconut oil as one.