Relax and take a deep breath: It’s not going to kill you.
First, the bad news: Last week, coconut oil got a bad rap when the American Heart Association released a study deeming the seemingly magical elixir a saturated fat-laden bomb. Yes, coconut oil does have a significant amount of saturated fat. However, that doesn’t suddenly negate its health benefits or make it a danger to avoid at all costs.
Keep in mind that this study is an analysis of existing research and less about the effects of coconut oil. Rather, it’s more about correcting a common misconception that coconut oil is a health food. Most health professionals (think: doctors and dietitians) have long been aware that coconut oil, like all fats, is simply that: A fat that doesn’t have miracle or life-altering effects on the human body. Also important to remember: the study did not look at clinical trials comparing the direct effects of coconut oil on cardiovascular disease.
As with everything in life, focusing on an overall lifestyle and entire dietary pattern, not any one specific food is best when it comes to health. For example, it’s better to eat fresh produce such as vegetables mixed with a tablespoon of coconut oil than it is to eat none at all. Incorporating a broad mix of fats, including some saturated fats, is beneficial for a healthy diet. Coconut oil is a stable oil that doesn’t break down easily at high temperatures or spoil as quickly as other oils.
Coconut oil is made by pressing the fat from the white coconut meat. Coconut oil’s high saturated fat content is mainly composed of medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. These are metabolized by the body differently than the longer-chain fats found in liquid vegetable oils, dairy, fatty red meats and other animal-based foods with trans fats.
Now, here’s good news: MCTs go straight from the digestive tract to the liver, where they are used as a quick source of energy or turned into ketones which can have a therapeutic effect. This increased energy and ketones may also aid in weight loss, curbing hunger and boosting calories burned.
Finally, used topically, coconut oil is still considered the holy grail for beauty, hair and skincare. Coconut oil can prevent damage and soothe dry hair; its moisturizing properties are also great for hydrating skin and can even act as a natural, mild sunscreen.