Don't go too nuts for coconuts
YEAH I KNOW. Come Friday I'm running on fumes and I have no more mental energy to come up with a better title.
I bet you can guess what I'm talking about today though!
Coconut oil. According to the internet, it does everything between condition your hair, flavor your food, and soothe third degree burns (kidding on that last one...).
You know I'm ALL about preaching research based nutrition information- I touched on fats a few weeks ago on the blog when I posted about extra virgin vs regular olive oils. Where does coconut oil fall on the health food spectrum?
The American Heart Association's clinical journal, "Circulation," just posted a meta analysis (basically a study that looks at all the relevant studies on a topic and looks for common findings). The researchers wanted to see if there were across the board links between coconut oil consumption and total cholesterol, "good cholesterol" (HDL), and "bad cholesterol" (LDL), and inflammation markers among other things.
Here's a hint I used to teach patients how to remember which one is good and bad- think "H" for happy- HDL is beneficial. Think "L" for lousy- LDL is the stuff that clogs the arteries.
After reviewing 16 research articles, they found that coconut oil consumption (though it's not specified how much and over what time period) is linked with a significant increase in LDL cholesterol. As a dietitian, this is what I would expect to see. Here's why- look at the amount of saturated fat on the nutrition fact label of my coconut oil:
Of the 14 grams of total fat, 12 of them are saturated. When looking at the fats on a nutrition label, think "the shorter the name of the fat, the worse it is for you." Trans fats? Most harmful- they've been linked with increased LDL and decreased HDL (so, they raise your bad cholesterol while lowering your good). Saturated fats? Also not good, but not quite as harmful. Saturated fats have been shown to increase LDL. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated- SUPER long names- are the "heart healthy" fats. We can see that coconut oil has only a TINY amount of heart healthy fats.
But clearly here I am with a jar of coconut oil, even though I just spilled about how it's full of saturated fats and we know saturated fats should be kept in check. What gives? WELL, I'm allllllllll about moderation. My breakfast cookies that I've been making (and eating) for nearly two years just taste SO good when made with coconut oil. Do we need to eliminate ALL saturated fat intake? Of course not. Guidelines exist for a reason. Note that a serving size is a tablespoon. If you were going to saute some shrimp, for example, in some coconut oil, you would likely use a tablespoon for the entire recipe. Same goes for my breakfast cookies- there is less than a tablespoon of oil per cookie. Given that the majority of meals I cook with olive oil, I'm not too worried that I'm overdoing it with saturated fats.
The American Heart Association's recommendation for saturated fat intake is to limit it to no more than 5-6% of your total calorie intake. So, if you're hanging around an 1800 calorie per day intake, no more than 90 calories. One gram of fat has 9 calories, so 90 calories of saturated fat translates to 10 grams.
Make sense? Coconut oil is NO miracle substance, but it can be enjoyed in moderation. I have not ever tried it as a hair conditioner, ha, because that's best left for the YouTube beauty pros to investigate!