Coconut Oil Conundrum

Coconut oil has generated quite a bit of controversy over the last few months. On one extreme, lovers of the solid, mildly flavored oil describe cooking with it, eating it by the spoonful, rubbing it on their hair and skin, and even using it as a diaper cream. On the other extreme, many have now concluded that coconut oil is fit only for lubricating a squeaky door hinge following the American Heart Association’s recent Presidential Advisory on Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease.

“Clinical trials that compared direct effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD) of coconut oil and other dietary oils have not been reported. However, because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.”

IS IT TRUE THAT COCONUT OIL CONTAINS PRIMARILY SATURATED FATS?

Yes. It contains about 90% saturated fat. However, saturated fats are required for many crucial functions in the body, including immune function and hormone production. Many saturated fats enhance micronutrient absorption and contain fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. They also make up a portion of the structure of cell membranes. Beyond being essential for the human body, from a cook’s perspective, saturated fats tend to be shelf-stable and heat tolerant.

IS IT TRUE THAT COCONUT OIL RAISES LDL (OFTEN REFERRED TO AS “BAD” CHOLESTEROL)?

Yes, but coconut oil also raises HDL, often referred to as “good” cholesterol, which is linked to protection from heart disease. Though cholesterol gets a bad rap, it’s actually essential to a healthy, functioning body.

Still struggling to make heads or tails of the research? You’re not alone. Nutrition science is ever-evolving, and there is still a lot to learn about how the body utilizes specific nutrients. In the meantime…

• When it comes to the coconut oil conundrum, don’t put all your eggs (coconut oil) in one basket (skillet). Use a variety of fats and oils such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, coconut oil, and butter based on their functions and flavor profiles. If you enjoy coconut oil, consider trying coconut butter, which contains coconut flesh and fiber in addition to fat. The body thrives on variety.

• Remember that dietary patterns as a whole are only one determinant of a person’s overall health. Relax! You’re not one spoonful of coconut oil away from health problems.

• Refrain from demonizing foods in your day-to-day diet. Rather than a good-or-bad, all-or-none mindset, adopt a “most of the time” approach.

• Keep in mind: It’s difficult to distill complicated science into simple, straightforward messages; therefore, nutrition recommendations are best when individualized.

• Look beyond the headlines, catchy blog posts, or sales-pitch from that friend selling “X” product, and do your own research in order to make an informed decision.

• Track changes in your health and lab values anytime you make a big nutritional change.

Blair Mize, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN is co-owner of Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition & lifestyle counseling practice operated by registered & licensed dietitians/nutritionists. Memphis Nutrition Group believes in a non-diet approach that promotes overall health and optimal performance without compromising the enjoyment of food. For more information call Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit http://www.MemphisNutritionGroup.com.

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