It’s a common misconception that just because something is natural, it’s inherently good for you. Case in point: cane sugar. While most healthy eaters know to keep sugar in moderation, there’s one all-natural food that is still commonly misunderstood: coconut oil.
Coconut oil has many amazing benefits on the beauty front; it can do everything from fight frizz to moisturize skin. But as far as nutritional benefits go, registered dietitian and You Versus Food host Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, says its track record is way overblown.
“Nope, it isn’t as great as you think,” she recently proclaimed on Instagram about coconut oil. Then, she proceeded to debunk several myths about the wellness world darling, drawn in large part from a new review of studies published in the journal Circulation.
One: Coconut oil isn’t high in antioxidants, as many believe. “Coconut oil consumption has no anti-inflammatory or blood sugar benefits,” Beckerman writes in her post. This was backed up in the Circulation review, which looked at 16 studies and concluded that “coconut oil consumption did not significantly affect markers of glycemia, inflammation, and adiposity [aka severe obesity] as compared with nontropical vegetable oils.” Translation: Eating coconut oil didn’t do much to help improve blood sugar levels, inflammation, or weight issues.
Want to know more about coconut oil’s impact on health? Check out this episode of You Versus Food:
Most concerning, she writes, is its saturated fat content. Yes, coconut oil comes from a plant, but it also has a lot more saturated fat (you know, the stuff the is associated with increased LDL cholesterols) per serving than butter at 11 grams per tablespoon. (Butter has around seven grams per tablespoon.)
While proponents of coconut oil have argued in the past that the body isn’t negatively impacted by the saturated fat in coconut oil compared to, say, the saturated fat in meat, Beckerman says the Circulation review found otherwise. “[In the study study], coconut oil consumption led to high LDL and total cholesterol versus other vegetable oils, such as olive, canola, soybean, or sunflower,” she writes. ICYMI, high LDL cholesterol (aka the “bad” kind of cholesterol) levels are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Scientific studies in humans do not support a beneficial effect of coconut oil consumption on body fatness, inflammation, blood sugar, or heart health,” Beckerman concludes in her post.
Does this mean coconut oil should never be used? Nope. “Coconut oil should not be used as a regular cooking oil but can be used *sparingly* for taste and texture,” Beckerman writes. Think of it as an occasional ingredient rather than an everyday staple like olive oil.
Here’s the bottom line with coconut oil: If you want to use coconut oil to enhance the taste of your food, go for it. Just don’t be under the impression that you’re doing wonders for your health in the process.
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