To eat coconut oil or not to eat coconut oil. This a hotly debated topic in the world of weight loss. Does it help you lose weight? Is it good for you? We look at the latest research, the official advice and the current debate.
latest research on coconut oil and weight loss
If you have been feeling some confusion on the topic of coconut oil then the bad news is that a brand new study does on the topic does little to help. The study They say coconut oil can aid weight loss, but can it really?, was published in 2017. It reviewed all the evidence to date on the subject of coconut oil and weight loss. The conclusion is that there is a “lack of consistent evidence on the topic of coconut oil, satiety and weight loss”. It then calls for more research in this area.
So we are left with the official advice on coconut oil, and an ongoing discussion about its possible merits.
Official advice on coconut oil
We are advised to cut down on saturated fats including coconut oil by NHS Choices, Heart UK, the World Health Organisation, the American Heart Association. Coconut oil contains about 85% saturated fat. The official advice is that saturated fat is linked to heart disease.
What does the advice mean when it says ‘cut down’ on saturated fat? The NHS recommends that:
- men should not have more than 30g of saturated fat a day
- women should not have more than 20g of saturated fat a day
One tablespoon of coconut oil provides about 12g saturated fatty acids.
why do some people promote coconut oil?
Some personal trainers and nutritionists argue that saturated fats as a whole have been ‘wrongly demonized’ and that they are actually good for the heart. This argument is based on a study which appeared to show saturated fats are not harmful to the heart. This study is described and reviewed by NHS Choices. It has since be argued that the study was flawed. It didn’t consider what people tended to eat in place of saturated fat (ie sugar and refined carbs). See the article published in 2017 in Circulation. It is of course interesting that the study seemed to show that sugar and refined carbs are just as bad as saturated fat.
Some people argue that although animal sources of saturated fat may be bad for us, coconut oil contains a healthier type of saturated fatty acid. This claim is disputed by Heart UK state, who state that:
Saturated fats of carbon length C12-C16 – Lauric (C12) Myristic (C14) and Palmitic (C16) raise total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels. Lauric has the most potent effect followed by myristic and palmitic acid. Coconut oil is rich in both lauric and myristic acids.
It is also argued by some that it is safer to cook with due to having a ‘higher smoking point’ than some other oils. However the study analysed in NHS Choices appears to find that frying with unsaturated oil is healthier, as long as it not re-used.
Another argument for coconut oil is that trans fats are more harmful to us than natural saturated fats. There is no dispute that trans fats are harmful. We are assured by the NHS that trans fats have been removed from most processed foods including spreads. NHS Choices give advice on this.
Recent research on saturated fat,coconut oil and cholesterol
A review of studies on saturated fat was published by the American Heart Association in the journal Circulation in 2017. It concluded that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced heart disease. However it also found that replacing saturated fat with refined carbs and sugars did not lower rates of heart disease.
A review of studies on coconut consumption was published in the journal Nutrition Reviews in 2016. It found that coconut oil raised total and LDL cholesterol more than unsaturated oils, but less than butter.
In terms of which fats are best for frying NHS Choices comments on a study which looks at this issue. The study found that frying with unsaturated oils such as olive oil or sunflower oil was more healthy than frying with saturated fats or reusing oils several times.
Calls for more research
A discussion article on the use of coconut oil and palm oil was published in the Ghana Medical Journal in 2016. It calls for more research into what role these fats and oils play in our health and nutrition.
In term of official advice, only the British Heart Foundation remain slightly undecided on coconut oil. They state on their website (accessed June 2017) that:
There has been speculation that some of the saturated fat present in coconut oil may be better for us than other saturated fats, but so far there is not enough good-quality research to provide us with a definitive answer.
A little fat in our diet is good for us. Include coconut oil in your diet if you like but keep to the recommended guidelines for saturated fats. Remember that a key part of the healthy mediterranean diet is unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats include oily fish, vegetable oils (eg olive, sunflower and rapeseed), avocado and nuts.