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Coconut oil: is it as healthy as you think?

Coconut oil is expensive, in high demand and has been branded as a health product by many health and wellbeing bloggers. It is claimed to be beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and hold many health benefits due to its medium chain fatty acids. Consequently, the UK has seen a surge in sales of coconut oil and the once popular olive oil has declined.

But how can coconut oil which is visibly a saturated fat be good for us?

Unfortunately, it is not all it is hyped up to be. Coconut oil has more saturated fat than butter and lard. Saturated fat is linked to high blood cholesterol which is associated with atherosclerosis and heart disease. Consequently, it is recommended that saturated fat should be replaced in the diet with unsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocados, sunflower oil and nuts. It is also advised that if we do consume saturate fats, we keep them to a minimum.

There is much debate around the association between saturated fat and dietary cholesterol however, research has found that saturated fat does increase LDL-cholesterol. Furthermore, when saturated fats are replaced with polyunsaturated fat there is a reduction in cardiac events and LDL-cholesterol.

UK guidelines advise that saturated fat intake should consist of less than 11% of daily energy intake. That equates to 20g per day for women, and 30g per day for men. To put that into perspective, 2 tablespoons of saturated fat contains 26g saturated fat. As a nation, the UK consumes above the recommended guidelines at between 12.5-13.5% of total energy intake.

But what about the medium chain triglycerides, aren’t they good for us?

70% of the fatty acids found in coconut oil (lauric, myrisitc and palmitic) are associated with raised blood cholesterol. The other 30% comes from medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCT oils are used clinically for people with digestive disorders however the evidence for their weight loss benefits are weak and unconvincing. Studies which have shown them to have small weight loss benefits have had many flaws such as, no control group and uneven number of participants in groups.

So do we stop eating coconut oil for good?

The Eatwell Guide recommends that people switch saturated fats to unsaturated alternatives, and that all fats be consumed in small amounts. Coconut oil is heavily used in vegan desserts due to its ability to solidify liquid ingredients, and allow desserts to hold their shape well. However, as the evidence reports that its high saturated fat intake is not providing any health benefits, it is to be used sparingly. Where possible, cook with oils such as olive oil and vegetable oils, and only use coconut oil when it is a key ingredient to that raw vegan cheesecake or home made chocolate.

Raw vegan cheesecake 🙂

I personally love raw vegan desserts and know how important and widely used they are in plant based recipes. You do not need to completely cut coconut oil from your diet if this is something you truly enjoy. Like I always say, it is about balance and moderation. As with all saturated fat, consume in small amounts and where possible use unsaturated oils instead.

Love.

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