Coconut Oil Health Risks - Separating Fact from Fiction

Coconut Oil Health Risks

Some people consider coconut oil one of the healthiest oils available today.

Others will tell you that there are serious coconut oil health risks because it’s a saturated fat, and all saturated fats are bad.

They will tell you that saturated fats clog your arteries and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cardiologists have been telling patients to stay away from saturated fats for years, but what about the many proven health benefits of coconut oil? 

The Truth About Coconut Oil Health Risks

When researchers studied a Polynesian population known for consuming more than 60 percent of their energy from coconuts, a new view of coconut oil emerged.

While members of this population had higher serum cholesterol levels than a comparison Polynesian population, vascular disease was uncommon for both groups of people.

Coconut Oil Health Risks - Separating Fact from Fiction

That brings us to one of the biggest myths about coconut oil: It raises cholesterol levels and enhances the risk of heart disease.

While many doctors are waiting for more scientific studies in humans before they make a decision for or against the oil, there are several points to keep in mind:

  • Most saturated fats contain an abundance of long-chain triglycerides that contribute to clogged arteries. Coconut oil is 90 percent saturated fat, but some of that fat takes the form of medium-chain triglycerides that are rapidly absorbed and burned as quick energy. Research has shown that these triglycerides can boost the metabolism to increase energy and help with weight loss.
  • Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, contain fewer calories and offer more health benefits than other saturated fats. You must look beyond the label “saturated fat” to consider the structure of the fat. While coconut oil still contains long-chain triglycerides, the addition of MCTs lowers heart-related coconut health risks while increasing the health benefits.
  • Polynesian populations that consume a lot of coconut oil don’t consume a lot of animal-derived saturated fats. While they have higher cholesterol levels than many other populations, they don’t suffer from high rates of heart disease. Coconut oil distinguishes itself from other saturated fats.

Putting Coconut Oil into Perspective

Are you now confused about the real coconut oil health risks and benefits?

It’s less confusing if you apply one simple fact to the conversation: There is no such thing as a miracle food.

The list of “superfoods” is growing, but there’s no such thing as one food that will protect your heart and improve your health in every way regardless of how much you consume.

Consuming coconut oil alone isn’t likely to increase your risk of heart disease. It’s also not likely to reduce your risk of heart disease if you also consume a lot of saturated fats made up entirely of long-chain triglycerides.

You can’t offset a bad diet by adding coconut oil. The health benefits are maximized when you substitute coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil and other heart-healthy oils for saturated fats like butter.  

Saturated fats are still bad for your heart, but coconut oil is the exception. The fat derived from coconuts offers a growing list of health benefits that you can’t get from other saturated fats.

That doesn’t mean that you should eat coconut oil with abandon. The best approach is to mix coconut oil with a nutrient-rich diet that provides the protein, fiber, antioxidants and carbohydrates that you need to stay energized and healthy.

The Future of Coconut Oil

What most medical professionals can agree on is the fact that more research into coconut health risks and benefits is needed.

There are small studies that have established an increase in cholesterol levels due to a high consumption of coconut oil.

There are other small studies that point to some great health benefits of coconut oil.

What we’re lacking today is large human trials that show the long-term risks and benefits of a diet rich in coconut oil.

In the meantime, what role should coconut oil play in your diet?

You can’t outright dismiss the fact that coconut oil is a saturated fat that does contain long-chain triglycerides.

You also can’t forget those medium-chain triglycerides and their powerful influence on your metabolism.

While the risk of increasing your cholesterol is there, it’s your overall diet that will determine your risk of heart disease and all other diseases.

When compared with other saturated oils, coconut oil is your best option. It’s not likely to put your heart at risk when combined with a heart-healthy diet that limits consumption of other long-chain triglycerides.

The healthiest approach is to focus on your overall diet, consuming a wide range of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and unrefined carbohydrates along with some healthy fats that provide the energy you need for a life well lived.

What Is the Best Form of Coconut Oil?

You’ll run into a lot of labels when shopping for coconut oil, and some of those labels will come with a higher price tag than others.

The health benefits that you receive from your coconut oil will depend on the labels you choose and how much you’re willing to pay for a high-quality, pure coconut oil.

The best option is an unrefined, organic or virgin coconut oil. These oils aren’t overly processed and will contain the most natural coconut oil compounds without a lot of added ingredients like preservatives.

Look for products with the USDA label that verifies it’s organic. The best products will also contain a non-GMO label.

If you guessed that you’ll pay more for these products, you’re correct.

You may also notice a shorter shelf life for the best coconut oil products, so it’s best to buy frequently rather than trying to stock up.

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