April 9, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Coconuts/Coconut Oil

I have a question about coconut oil and lauric acid.

[A] co-worker was doing some research online, and found out that coconut oil is supposedly antimicrobial.

The main fatty acid is lauric acid, which supposedly helps boost metabolism by activating the thyroid.

Is there any truth to those statements?

-- Brandon
(via the blog)

Coconut is a controversial fruit. Although almost entirely made up of saturated fats, there are plenty of books and websites dedicated to its "miraculous" weight-loss and healing properties.

However, two red flags immediately go up.

Number one? Most websites that hail coconut oil as a holy food that cures you of all ills while simultaneously helping you look years younger inevitably -- and predictably -- end up hawking some sort of coconut product.

Number two? My "BS" radar always beeps loudly when one food is referred to as a "miracle" or "cure-all".

The links between coconut oil and thyroid function have never been even remotely established in any studies. I believe that "fact" stems from an article in health and diet supermarket trash tabloid Woman's World, which is as reputable as a Vegas used car salesman.

Although lauric acid is one of the "least unhealthy" saturated fats, it certainly doesn't justify including massive amounts of coconut oil in your diet.

Before I continue, let me share one of my biggest nutritional pet-peeves. I always find myself counting to ten and taking deep breaths when I hear someone say something along the lines of, "but there are tribes in Polynesia that LIVE on coconuts and their heart disease rates are really low!"

The problem with that statement is that those Polynesian tribes also have extremely different lifestyles, dietary patterns, and environmental factors affecting their health.

Extracting only the coconut eating and adapting it to a traditional United States diet does not guarantee YOUR risk of heart disease is suddenly going to match that of a random member of that Polynesian tribe.

With that out of the way, let's continue.

My verdict on coconut oil? For the time being, treat it like you would all other saturated fats. Don't shun it, but do keep it to a certain limit (if eating 2,000 calories, aim to consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat a day).

Also, I would much rather you consume coconut meat (or shredded unsweetened coconut) rather than coconut oil, as the actual fruit provides more nutrients.

If antimicrobial properties of food are your thing, coconut oil is not the only source. Garlic, green tea, cumin, and cayenne pepper also have antimicrobial components.

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