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Food Trend Chronicles: What About Coconut Oil?

Recently, I was asked to write a few articles for a newsletter designed for nutrition professionals.  The challenge was to write about food trends that are currently popular and circulating on social media and talk shows daily.  Some of the information is accurate, most is not.  Some is skewed and stretched; not completely false, but not right either.  Since I have been writing these for Registered Dietitians to share with their clients, I figured I should be sharing them with you.  So, with that in mind, here is the first installment of Food Trend Chronicles.  The topic?  Coconut oil.  Read on for the scientifically-based information regarding coconut oil.

Food Trend Chronicles:  What About Coconut Oil?

If you believe everything you see on “doctor TV” and the internet, then you may also believe that coconut oil, once touted as the evil ingredient in movie popcorn, is now the sweetheart of the health-conscious movement.  But what has changed, if anything?  Well, let’s see…

Studies have been done with the hope that coconut oil consumption would be a tool for losing weight, repairing a brain damaged by Alzheimer’s disease, and reducing cholesterol levels, therefore reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Unfortunately, not one of them proved coconut oil could live up to its reputation as a panacea for all that ails us.

Coconut oil is mostly saturated fat – 92% saturated fat to be exact.  Saturated fat is the main culprit of high blood cholesterol levels in the American diet.  For comparison, 63% of the fat in butter is saturated.  As far as the scientific community is concerned, not much has changed.  Coconut oil does contain medium-chained fatty acids (MCTs), which are known to be easily digestible and not cause the same damage to the cardiovascular system as short and long-chained fatty acids.  That said, coconut oil is not 100% MCT oil, a fact that the medical media folks have left out.  The truth is that it may actually only contain 10% MCTs.  And while MCT oil may increase HDL (good) cholesterol, it also raises LDL (bad) cholesterol at the same time, and any food that raises LDL should not be consumed in abundance.

Using coconut oil in cooking and baking is a good alternative for vegans and bakers who are looking for a substitute for lard or other solid vegetables oils; it has a mild, sweet flavor and is solid at room temperature.  But don’t be fooled by the hype:  Replacing all of the fat in your diet with coconut oil will not benefit your brain, heart, or waistline.  The guideline still stands at keeping fat intake to 30% of your diet, and saturated fat to less than 7% of your total daily calories in order to keep your heart healthy.  Variety is also key: There is no one “super food” with the ability to protect our bodies from disease.  And in the case of coconut oil, the scientific fact remains that it should be consumed in small amounts on occasion, and not thought of as the wonder food to be eaten at every meal.

If you are looking for further information about coconut oil, let me know and I can direct you to a few journal articles.  If you are a lover of coconut oil, feel free to continue to use it in moderation and enjoy, as with all foods.  But if you purchased a tub of it in the hopes that it would make you stronger/faster/thinner/smarter, don't fret - there are plenty of other uses for coconut oil - you can use it as a skin moisturizer, a hair conditioner, and even as furniture polish!

I hope you enjoyed this first edition of the Food Trend Chronicles.  Tell me, do you have any food trends that you would like to know more about?

For more from Beth, head over to Goodness Gracious Living!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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