Coconut oil used to be the preserve of face and body lotions but in the last year it has become popular, hailed as the latest health food. But what is the evidence to support these health claims – it seems it might not be as black and white as you might think!
Coconut oil is a fat which is found in the white part of a coconut. It can be either virgin, refined, or partially hydrogenated.
Virgin is made directly from the white part of a fresh coconut; refined is made from dried coconut flesh that is chemically bleached and de-odorised.
Refined coconut oil can be further processed and hydrogenated to increase the melting point – this makes it suitable for making commercially prepared snacks and confectionery.
As with all fats, coconut oil is high in calories, similar to olive oil and rapeseed oil, having just under 900kcals per 100g. It also contain 92 per cent saturated fat.
Some have claimed that diets rich in coconut oil have a cardio-protective quality. However it seems that while coconut oil can increase the good type of cholesterol (HDL ), unfortunately it also increases our LDL or bad cholesterol. It seems to matter more what coconut oil is replacing in our diet – if it is replacing olive oil or rapeseed oil then it is probably a bad thing and will increase bad cholesterol. But if by taking coconut oil we are eating less food high in hydrogenated (trans ) fats like biscuits, cakes, pies, pastries, or butter this will have a good effect on cholesterol.
So what is the verdict? Really unless a recipe looks for coconut oil, there is no benefit in eating large amounts of this type of fat. Unsaturated fats like rapeseed oil or olive oil are far less expensive, are rich in omega-3, and do not raise your bad cholesterol. But remember all fats taken in excess will literally make you fat.
By Cara Cunningham, MINDI, community dietitian. For more information on diet and nutrition, please contact the Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster on (044 ) 9395518 or [email protected].