Everyone is going nuts for coconuts! The health benefits of coconut oil and coconut water are a hot topic in the nutrition industry these days. Many people swear that the oil of this fruit has positively impacted their overall well-being, and have resorted to only using this particular “healthy” oil when preparing meals. Refueling after a hard workout at the gym with coconut water has become the new “it” trend, and coconut oil used for cooking and baking is all the rage among self-proclaimed health nuts.
So what’s the deal? Why is everyone raving about coconuts?
The scientific consensus regarding the benefits of coconut oil and coconut products is still weak. While this is a reality that few people want to face, it’s the truth.
According to the PEN (practice based evidence in nutrition) database, developed by Dietitians of Canada, due to the fact that there is still limited information and research regarding the health benefits of coconut oil, it is difficult to confirm the positive effects that this particular type of oil has on the human body. Coconut oil has been found to have no effect on the treatment or prevention of illnesses such as diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, and Alzheimer’s.
A clinical study published in ISRN Pharmacol found that 30 mL / day of coconut oil supplementation has no effect on BMI or fat mass (Liau, Lee, Chen, & Rasool, 2011). This study also found that there were unchanged lipid profiles ( tests measuring cholesterol levels, HDL, LDL and total cholesterol levels), suggesting that the consumption of coconut oil during the period of the study had no impact on the overall health of the subjects of the study (Liau, Lee, Chen, & Rasool, 2011). To date, there is still insufficient evidence to firmly suggest that supplementation with coconut oil can, and will, decrease body weight in obese adults and improve overall health.
While coconut oil, in moderation, can promote healthy HDL (good cholesterol!) levels, there is evidence that a diet rich in coconut oil actually results in increased LDL (bad cholesterol!) levels as well – don’t go over-board on the good stuff! As with many food products and healthy choices, everything must be consumed in moderation – an excessive amount of a good thing can, and very well may, have detrimental effects on the body.
Dr. Laura Forbes, professor in the Applied Human Nutrition program at the University of Guelph, explains: “The hype surrounding coconut oil is not justified by the evidence currently available, and while it does not appear to be one of the heart healthiest oils ( eg. canola, olive oils ), it’s also not the worst oil for your heart health.”
Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Lipid Research focusing on the effects of coconut oil and lipoproteins in people with elevated cholesterol levels concluded that despite some beneficial properties of the oil, individuals with a risk of obesity should limit fat sources and should choose alternative fats to coconut oil (Cox, Mann, Sutherland, Chisholm, & Skeaff, 1995).
According to current research, it seems that we are all going nuts for no apparent reason – coconut products may yield some health benefits, but given the most up-to-date research, it is better to air on the side of caution when it comes to this type of oil. This particular type of oil assists in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, but also contains a high quantity of calories per tablespoon. A moderate consumption of coconut oil will have no negative effects on the body, but an excessive intake will likely skew healthy blood lipid levels, increase weight, and lead to health issues that had previously not been present in an individual following a regular diet.
|Cox, C., Mann, J., Sutherland, W., Chisholm, A., & Skeaff, M. (1995). Effects of coconut oil, butter, and safflower oil on lipids and lipoproteins in persons with moderately elevated cholesterol levels. Journal of lipid research, 36(8), 1787-1795.|
Liau KM, Lee YY, Chen CK, Rasool AH. An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity. ISRN Pharmacol. 2011 [cited 2012 Jun 12];2011:949686. Abstract available from:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22164340
PEN – Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition. (2012, October 4). PEN. Retrieved July 26, 2014, from http://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=19691&pqcatid=146&pqid=19646
PEN – Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition. (2012, October 4). PEN. Retrieved July 26, 2014, from http://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=2878&pqcatid=146&pqid=2946