It seems that everywhere you look, someone is making a new claim about coconut oil. It’s been popping up on shelves in everything from moisturiser to mouthwash, but coconut oil has also garnered the coveted title of “super food.” However, anyone with a little knowledge of dietary fats knows that when fats are solid at room temperature—like coconut oil—they’re rich in saturated fats, the kind that ‘conventional’ health experts tell you to avoid. So if coconut oil is a saturated fat, how is it a super food?
While it’s true that coconut oil is high in saturated fat, coconut oil’s advocates say that it is the oil’s specific makeup of fatty acids that makes it a super food. Half of the fats in coconut oil are also comprised of Lauric acid—a 12 Carbon saturated fat known as a Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT). Research has shown that MCTs are more easily digested and used than other types of fat, thus the energy in coconut oil is said to be more efficiently used. In short: not all saturated fats are created equal.
The MCTs like those found in coconut oil may play a part in appetite control, and other studies using coconut oil have linked the food to abdominal fat loss and lowered cholesterol. In fact, it’s possible that while coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it may be a better alternative to other fats for cardiovascular health. Other research, while still in very early stages, has suggested that coconut oil could help treat Alzheimer’s disease. (Many coconut oil advocates also swear by Lauric acid’s effectiveness in fighting off bad bacteria, but these claims are yet to be supported in scientific studies.)
Furthermore, researchers are continually raising the question of whether saturated fats are really that unhealthy. Coconut oil, along with palm-kernel oil and other high-MCT foods, are making nutritionists and health researchers question our basic assumptions about what makes fats “healthy” and “unhealthy.” It could be that saturated fats like MTCs could be a beneficial, as long as you’re not skipping out too much on Omega-3-rich unsaturated fats.
These findings point to the benefits of coconut oil, which together help it earn the title of “super food” for many of its fans. However, before you reach for a jar of coconut oil, keep portion control in mind. Coconut oil may be a “super food,” but that doesn’t mean you have to pile heaps of it into every meal. The oil is still high in fat and calorie-rich, and it’s best to enjoy it in moderation. Simply substituting coconut oil for unhealthy omega 6 rich cooking oils (like canola oil, sunflower, and peanut oil) is the best way to incorporate the food into your diet without overdoing it. Make sure that is is organic, cold pressed, and extra virgin like the coconut oil here.
There are plenty of exciting and promising developments in what we know about coconut oil and saturated fats in general. For now, there’s still a lot to learn about this “super food,” but what is clear is that it can be a super alternative to many animal fats and vegetable oils, with some potentially great benefits.