When different diet fads surface, some getting decent weight loss results, there is a sudden influx of food and nutrition recommendations on the web being proclaimed as the new best way to eat. Some of these are great: increase your fruit and vegetable intake, drink more water, whole grains, etc. Some of them can be dangerous. How are you to know the difference?

Something I’ve been hearing about lately are the merits of coconut oil. People are putting it in coffee, making cookies and putting it in their hair. Why? What makes it so great? “My trainer says it’s great,” is not a good reason to introduce a new food into your diet. “My friend lost a bunch of weight,” is also not a safe reason to make a switch.

The best thing to do is research these claims yourself or ask a registered dietitian. Why? For starters, coconut oil is stacked and packed with saturated fat. You can tell because it is solid at room temperature, a tell tale sign. Saturated fat should be limited to 7% of your fat intake per day. So, it should be limited in your meal plan according to the American Heart Association. I found this paired with the number of people recommending it’s dietary use to be confusing. So, I did some research.

If after reading some of the information I am about to post you want to add in coconut oil to your diet, you should discussit with a Registered Dietitian. (I am one or you can find one local to you through www.eatright.org. ) I do my own research. I went online and looked up peer reviewed, scientific articles from respected medical journals. Going to websites advocating the use of or condemning the use of coconut oil isn’t a good idea since there is instant bias. This is what I found in the articles:

Coconut oil, while full of saturated fat, contains a high amount of lauric acid. This fat (lauric acid is a fat) is very easily used by the cell to produce energy. It is able to bypass a shunt (think of it as a little shuttle bringing fats into a different part of the cell) and can be used quickly. Other fats have to be shuttled in and this requires other processes to happen, slowing the use of the other fats.

Another reason coconut oil seems to be ok to consume is its ability to increase the HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) as well as the total cholesterol:HDL cholesterol ratio. It did seem to raise the level of all forms of cholesterol, but more so, it raised the HDL. This would cause me to question its suitability for those with heart disease or already elevated cholesterol levels. Another reason to check with a dietitian before making this change to your meal plan.

There were some other findings, but they were quite specific to the studies. If you want to do some of your own research on this or any other health topic, these are the procedures I used to gather this information and some of my resources:

Search Engine: Google.com/scholar

Criteria: less than 10 years old, no patents, no legal docs

Search Terms: coconut oil, lipid profiles, obesity, heart disease, benefits, contraindications

Resources:

Assuncao ML, Ferreira HS, dos Santos AF, Cabral CR, Florencio TMMT. Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles for Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity. Lipids 2009;44:593-601.

Feranil AB, Duazo PL, Kuwaza CW, Adair LS. Coconut oil predicts a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2011;20(2):190-195.