For many years doctors and nutritionists have told their patients to stay away from tropical oils because they are saturated fats that were thought to raise “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and not be heart-healthy. However, some of my patients have recently read or heard about the health benefits of coconut oil and are confused as to whether they should use it or not. Here is what I tell my patients about coconut oil and what you should know about this interesting oil.
Coconut Oil – Healthy or Harmful?
Most Americans remember coconut and palm oils as being ingredients in artificial powdered coffee creamers and other products as stabilizing agents that also imparted a richer, smoother taste. However, tropical oils were thought to be harmful to your health because of the saturated fat content and the word from healthcare professionals was to avoid foods that contained these types of fats.
Oddly, though, Pacific Islander populations, who routinely get 30% to 60% of their daily calories from coconut oil, have almost non-existent levels of cardiovascular disease! How is that possible when they consume so much coconut oil, a heavily saturated fat thought to contribute to heart disease in America? Well, Natural Health News explains.
The answer seems to lay in the fact that coconut oil is a natural, vegetable saturated fat rather than an artificially created “trans fat”, found to be the true culprits of high bad cholesterol levels. Trans fats are artificially created fats made from injecting hydrogen atoms into vegetable and seed oils to add to their shelf life.
On the flip side, coconut oil has, in the past few years, been redeemed of its unhealthy, saturated fat “tropical oil” label. Nutritionists and health researchers are now singing its praises as a most healthy fat to use every day without concern of it raising bad cholesterol levels and, in fact, protecting against cardiovascular disease. Here are some of coconut oil’s benefits:
- Boosts immune system. Contains lauric acids, which has antiviral, antibacterial and antiprotozoal, anti-inflammatory properties. The only other natural substance that contains lauric acid is mother’s milk.
- Burns fat. Coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride that burns like carbohydrates in the liver but without a spike in insulin. Boosts metabolic rate – the rate at which you burn energy – helping your body use fat for energy rather contributing to weight loss.
- Superior stable cooking oil. Unlike other Omega 6 fat vegetable oils, stays stable at high heats. Cooking with other vegetable oils like sunflower, canola, soy, safflower, can badly denature the oil, causing them to become heart hazardous transfats. High heat in frying also causes these oils to oxidize and destroys the antioxidants in them, making them even more dangerous for your heart and vessels.
- Boosts your thyroid. This is a somewhat controversial claim, and may not work that way for everyone who uses coconut oil, but comes from the thought that coconut oil may boost metabolism.
- Skin benefits. Because of its small molecular size, coconut oil used topically on the skin can penetrate the skin’s top layer and strengthen connective tissues there. It keeps the skin healthy and supple to prevent wrinkling, sagging, and dryness. Also thought to lighten brown age and sun spots.
- Diabetes control. 1-3 tablespoons a day can help stabilize blood sugar levels by controlling insulin spikes.
- Heart health. Lauric acid thought to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Digestive disorders. Many users of coconut oil swear that it helps their Crohns or other digestive disorders such as constipation. In others, it may cause some diarrhea, but this may be from using too much. As with all oils and foods, moderation is the key, 1-3 tablespoons a day taken with food should not cause intestinal upsets.
Based on the fact that most research has shown coconut oil to be beneficial to human health, I feel there is a place for it in your diet – if only to replace other vegetable cooking oils that dangerously oxidize at high levels. As I tell my patients, coconut oil may be of great benefit to your health, even if only by eliminating other oils that have been proven to be harmful after heating to the high temperatures used in frying.
Also, based on the fact that it has been a staple ingredient of Pacific Islander cultures for centuries and their cardiovascular disease levels, and other diseases associated with high saturated fat diets, are fairly nonexistent, I’d conclude that using coconut oil is not likely to adversely affect your cholesterol levels and cause cardiovascular damage.
I’d say go ahead and enjoy coconut oil 1-3 times a day!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News