"Conduct a quick Google search, and you’ll find miraculous claims about a tropical fat that has become increasingly popular among health-conscious consumers in recent years: coconut oil. Health claims about the oil's ability to help you burn fat, boost your memory, improve your heart health—and even prevent sunburn—abound. Many trusted talk-show hosts and ''wellness experts'' have touted coconut oil as nature's ''miracle'' food.
People make a lot of claims about coconut oil, but there is no well-designed, peer-reviewed, credible scientific evidence to show that coconut oil speeds metabolism, promotes weight loss, cures Alzheimer’s disease, improves brain function, or improves heart health. In addition, no evidence exists to prove that ''virgin'' coconut oil is any less damaging to your heart than other varieties.
When we consume plant and animal sources of fat, we also eat their fatty acids, all of which are structurally different. For example, some of the fatty acids in butter and milk fat have a short chain length of 4-6 carbons. Coconut oil contains fats with 12-14 carbons, animal fats have some longer carbon chains with 16-20 carbons, and peanut oil has 20-22 carbons in some of its fatty acid chains. While there is no exact definition as to the number of carbons needed to be classified as a short-, medium- or long-chain fatty acid, most researchers define ''medium-chain'' as somewhere between 6 and 14 carbons.
Some research done on humans shows that substituting the distilled MCT oil for long-chain fats found in meats, fish oils, and vegetable oils can result in a short-term increase in metabolic rate and increased satiety for the calories consumed. This is one factor that could result in weight loss. So, MCT oil does appear to be slimming when used with other weight-loss interventions.
More and more people are questioning what we once thought about saturated fat: that all saturated fat is bad for you. It's true that nutrition science is ever-evolving; the research and knowledge regarding saturated fat has really grown in recent years. So, who is right?
One study conducted many years ago on two Polynesian islands (Pukapuka Islands and Tokelau Islands) found that the consumption of coconuts was remarkably high, making up 34%-63% of the total calories of the populations. Since coconut oil is highly saturated, it is not surprising that the blood cholesterol levels in the islanders were elevated. Yet, the researchers noted that cardiovascular disease was uncommon.
Coconut oil isn't the only source of saturated fat. As the popularity of coconut oil increases as the result of ''paleo'' or ''caveman'' diet trends, we're seeing more and more coconut products on grocery shelves, too. You’ll need to keep a handle on other coconut products, too, as many are also high in saturated fat.
- Coconut milk, which contains the meat and
liquid of coconuts and often comes canned, is rich in calories and fat. A
1/2-cup serving contains 223 calories and 24 grams of fat, 21 of which are
saturated—well over one's typical upper limit for saturated fat.
- Raw, shredded coconut meat, which can be purchased as-is
or cut up from a whole coconut, is often used in tropical fruit salads. A
small 1/4-cup serving contains 71 calories and 7 grams of fat (6 of which
- Dried, shredded coconut is most often found in the
baking aisle or in bulk at natural
foods stores. Often used in baking, smoothies or desserts, a 1/4-cup
serving contains 150 calories, 15 grams of fat and 13 grams of saturated
fat. You'll most often find dried and sweetened coconut at conventional
grocers. Sweetened coconut is actually lower in calories and fat, since
some of the fat is displaced by sweeteners. A 1/4-cup serving contains 116
calories and 8 grams of fat (7 of which are saturated).
- Coconut water, on the other hand, does not use the ''meat'' of the coconut—only the watery liquid inside. Therefore, it does not contain the calories and fat found in coconut oil or shredded coconut meat. Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts are using coconut water to rehydrate the body during exercise and endurance events. A 1-cup serving of coconut water contains 46 calories, 0.5 grams of fat, 0.4 grams of saturated fat, 600 milligrams of potassium and 252 milligrams of sodium, according to data from the USDA. But beware: Recent reports are saying that coconut water is no better than plain old water when it comes to hydration.
Don’t go cuckoo for coconut oil yet. There is not yet any credible research data that proves that coconut aids in weight loss, brain function, or heart health.
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