The controversial coconut oil
Is it good or bad for health? Is it true everything we hear about it? The answer is: it depends!
To start the topic we need to establish some concepts:
Coconut oil is a saturated fat (92%), mostly of medium chain fatty acids, and is mainly composed by lauric and myristic acid;
One tablespoon - which corresponds to 15 grams - contains 132 calories;
The kind of extraction, as in olive oil, set the quantity and quality of beneficial substances, such as phenolic compounds.
Still nice until here? So, let's understand the properties of coconut oil!
Recently, the literature has suggested that coconut oil, especially the virgin and extra virgin types, can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and control blood glucose levels.
Antimicrobial and antibacterial properties have also been conferred to coconut oil due to the lauric acid and the phenolic compounds. The modulation of immune cell proliferation, driven by lauric acid, is another property studied.
Although the main composition of coconut oil is saturated fat, scientific evidences suggests that it may have no negative effects on plasma lipids and, regard to cardiovascular risk, it is at the same level as other fats - meaning that the overconsumption and not only the consumption itself - as published in a systematic review in 2016.
When used to cook, you may not reheat the oil or keep it in high temperatures, since the melting point of coconut oil is low, to avoid generation of aromatic heterocyclic amines, known as carcinogenic and with mutagenic potential.
For weight loss, until now, there is no published study proving the effect of coconut oil in it and wheter there is any physiological mechanism for this action. ABESO and SBEM recently published a document against the use of this oil for weight loss. So, you may not believe in fad diet! 😉
In conclusion, coconut oil does not seem to be as bad as previously thought, but there is no consistent scientific evidence to support its superiority over other types of oil or the ideal amount for reported effects. And though it has interesting properties, it does not mean we will put coconut oil in everything, because it’s always good to remember: it’s not a specific food, but a whole lifestyle determining the health/disease processes.
ABESO & SBEM. Posicionamento oficial da Sociedade Brasileira de Endocrinologia e Metabologia (SBEM) e da Associação Brasileira para o Estudo da Obesidade e da Síndrome Metabólica (ABESO) sobre o uso do óleo de coco para perda de peso. 2015
Fernando WM, Martins IJ, Goozee KG, Brennan CS, Jayasena V, Martins RN. The role of dietary coconut for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: potential mechanisms of action. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015, 114; 1–14
Srivastava S, Singh M, George J, Bhui K, Saxena AM, Shukla Y. Genotoxic and carcinogenic risks associated with the dietary consumption of repeatedly heated coconut oil. British Journal of Nutrition. 2010, 104; 1343–1352
Eyres L, Eyres F, Chisholm A, Brown RC. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutrition Reviews. 2016