What's the deal with all things coconut lately? As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I work with bariatric patients at Indiana University Health North, to help them lose weight in preparation for surgery. In addition to being followed by a team, patients also receive individualized nutrition counseling post-operatively. We work together to identify barriers and solutions throughout their weight loss journey. This includes sifting through the many nutrition myths and messages set forth by the media.
I also help people reach their health and fitness goals as a Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. For me, it's a personal win to see my patients make healthy choices because they can, not because they have to. I love being able to help people integrate nutrition, fitness, and wellness to create long lasting lifestyle changes.
Coconut oil is a type of oil that is removed from the fruit of the coconut. It is a saturated fat, which consumers are advised to avid a diet high in this type of fat. Virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid which is a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) that can raise both good and bad cholesterol levels.
'Coconut oil promotes weight loss': Yes, it is slightly lower in calories than other fats, however, coconut oil is still 115 calories per tablespoon which (like all oils) can add up quickly. Some studies done on rats have linked medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil to be slightly supportive of weight loss, but at this moment there is not enough solid evidence to make a recommendation.
'Coconut oil can treat diabetes': While some studies suggest MCFA may affect the body differently, there is currently no evidence that coconut oil can alter sensitivity to insulin. It should also be noted that the American Diabetes Association places coconut oil under the category of saturated fat, therefore should be limited.
'Coconut oil can improve heart health': HDL, the 'good' cholesterol, has been shown to increase with consumption of coconut products; however it can also increase LDL, the 'bad' cholesterol. Since coconut oil is mostly saturated fat, research shows it is better to choose more mono- and polyunsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, and avocados.
Coconut oil is sweeter with nutty hints, and can be used as a substitute for shortening or butter, particularly for those avoiding animal products. Be cautious of the 'coconut craze' and remember, just because you see an item marketed many places, doesn't make it a miracle food or healthy. Use in moderation, focusing on an overall balanced healthy diet.