Coconut oil has taken its place next to kale and other dietary trends. There`s even toothpaste with coconut oil. As with all trends, it´s taking some hits. Recently the American Heart Association published a study about dietary fats and cardiovascular disease in which coconut oil doesn’t fare so well.
But before we start demonizing it, or celebrating it, let´s review our fats and where coconut oil falls on the spectrum.
There are many kinds of fats that we find in our diets – the good, the not-so-good-but-really-tasty, and the bad.
Monounsaturated fats top our favorites list! Olive oil, peanut oils, avocados, nuts, and canola oil have monounsaturated fats. Diets rich in monounsaturated fats can decrease your risk of heart disease because they help control blood cholesterol levels. There´s also research out that has proven monounsaturated fats can help insulin levels. These are our staple Mediterranean Diet fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in other plant-based sources like sunflower, soybean, corn, sesame, and cottonseed oils. And don´t forget the omega-3 fats found in fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts! These, too, are polyunsaturated fats. Like monosaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol level and insulin levels.
Saturated fats predominantly come from animal products: dairy, eggs, meat and chicken. They also are found in cocoa butter, coconut, palm, and other tropical oils. Saturated fats can raise your blood cholesterol level, leaving you more at-risk for cardiovascular problems. That said, our bodies need saturated fats “the construction of cell membranes, organ padding, and nerve sheathes … hormone production, cellular signaling within the body, and immune function … the proper absorption of some minerals and fat-soluble vitamins” and even suppressing some types of cancers. (Wil Dubois, Diebetesselfmanagement.com, October 2015). This doesn´t mean we should bathe everything in coconut oil; however, a diet low in saturated fats, for the majority of people, is just fine.
THE BAD … JUST PLAIN OLD BAD:
Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are just bad news. Trans fats are found in most processed foods and can really be harmful to our health – raising blood cholesterol levels, lowering good cholesterol, and putting us at risk for chronic disease.
So back to coconut oil. It´s getting a bad rap these days, not because it´s ever really changed its essence but simply because some people erroneously began to tout it as the latest health food. So people reached out for the coconut oil as the next panacea, tasty, too, and have doused their foods in it over the past couple of years.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat that can be part of our diets – in moderation. But replacing butter with coconut oil is akin to replacing bacon with … bacon. It´s virtually the same thing.
So, enjoy the flavors of the tropics. Continue with a DASH diet – one high in fruit and vegetables, mono and polyunsaturated fats, fresh fish. Keep red meat consumption down and enjoy a piece of bacon with a fried egg once in a while.