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Let’s Talk Coconut Oil: Nutrition, Benefits and Comparison

By slaber89

About a decade ago, you probably would have had to visit a health food store to find it, now it seems to be around every corner in your local grocery. That’s right – coconut oil! Some people swear by it, while others are skeptical. What’s the deal with coconut oil? Is it healthy? Is it better for you than butter or other oils? Should you try it out, or is it just good for keto?

What’s in coconut oil?

If you know a thing or two about nutrition, you probably know that coconut oil is just fat. Like other oils, coconut oil is indeed a fat. However, the difference between specific types of cooking oil lies in the amount of saturated fat they contain. Coconut oil is typically comprised of at least 90 percent saturated fat, which is much higher than butter (about 64 percent) or lard (around 40 percent) 1.

Benefits

If you strive for a healthy diet (and a healthy heart), you should watch your saturated fat intake, as it can increase your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.

So, does that mean coconut oil is unhealthy? Not necessarily. The saturated fat found in coconut oil can actually help increase your HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels as well (1). Coconut oil also contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which are a type of fatty acid that is more easily metabolized by your liver to provide energy (2). MCT have also been found to suppress appetite – which is a nice side effect if you’re watching your weight (3). Coconut oil also contains beneficial fat-soluble vitamins as well as antioxidants, so it’s certainly not just a gooey, creamy pile of empty calories.

Coconut oil can also be used topically for skin moisturization, hair care, and a light sunscreen. It can even be used to help relieve itching associated with eczema (4). Some people use coconut oil for a practice known as oil pulling, which may have dental health benefits (5).

How to shop for coconut oil

As with any other food, you’ll want the best value for your dollar, so make sure you’re buying the highest-quality coconut oil available. Organic coconut oils are available if this is a priority in your lifestyle. Additionally, you may have the option to choose between refined and unrefined versions. There is often a substantial price difference between the two – so certainly select the type that fits your budget best, but understand that refined coconut oils may not have the same characteristic taste or aroma as unrefined versions.

Is it healthier than olive and canola oil?

Of course, the meaning of “healthy” can vary greatly from person to person. With that in mind, let’s look at these oils from a scientific perspective. Each has a vastly different fat breakdown:

Type % Monounsaturated % Polyunsaturated % Saturated
Olive Oil 78% 8% 14%
Canola Oil 62% 31% 7%
Coconut Oil 6% 2% 92%

Source: Cleveland Clinic

So, what do these numbers mean? Generally, both types of unsaturated fats (mono- and poly-) are considered to be beneficial to your health. Unsaturated fats can help lower LDL levels, as well as playing a role in the growth and upkeep of healthy cells (, 8). Some types of polyunsaturated fats are even considered essential – meaning that we need to obtain them from our diet since the human body cannot produce them (8). These include omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can help to lower high triglyceride levels, control blood sugar levels in diabetes, and slightly lower high blood pressure. Finally, as we’ve already briefly touched on, too much saturated fat can affect your serum cholesterol levels – increasing both LDL and HDL.

Essentially, all three types of oil can be a healthy option in your diet. Of course, which one is a better choice for you personally may be related to your health goals. If improving cholesterol levels and managing blood sugar are a priority, an oil with higher levels of unsaturated fatty acids (such as olive oil) may be more ideal for you. If your cholesterol levels are within a healthy range, coconut oil may be a great choice.

Who should use coconut oil?

If you’re following the ketogenic diet, chances are that you’ve already got a jar or two of coconut oil in your kitchen. With a pleasant taste and ability to be used in a variety of cooking applications from baking to sautéing, coconut oil is pretty much a mainstay when it comes to keto.

However, if you’re not following a high-fat diet, coconut oil can still be a great addition to your repertoire. It can be used to replace other fats such as butter or lard, and you can enjoy the health benefits associated with the MCTs it contains. Using coconut oil in baking recipes is a great place to start if you’re not particularly adventurous in the kitchen.

Conclusion

If you aren’t already using coconut oil, you might be missing out on a great item. Coconut oil can be used for many different applications, and it has a nice flavor.

Of course, the old cliché “too much of a good thing” applies here. If you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet and a slim physique, keeping your saturated fat intake in check is important. Coconut oil can be a fantastic addition to your diet – just make sure you aren’t adding it to everything you eat. A good general rule of thumb is to limit saturated fat intake to 7 percent or less of your total daily calories. Since one gram of fat is equivalent to 9 calories, extra coconut oil will add up quickly, so be sure to use it in moderation.