In the past year, my clients have become very curious about coconut oil. “What about coconut oil?” they ask. “Is it good or bad?”
My answer is there is not a good or bad food. That is, an apple is a good (healthful) food but a diet of all apples is a bad diet. The same concept applies to coconut oil. A little bit can fit into a balanced diet – but frequent consumption is likely trending to the dark side.
To date, there is too little research to make a firm health claim about coconut oil. But my question to you is, “Why would you want to swap out olive oil, a mono-unsaturated fat which is known to be health-promoting, and replace it with saturated fat that is known to be health erosive?”
Yes, coconut oil does contain some types of fatty acids that can have positive health attributes. But it also has a significant amount of the negative saturated fat that contributes to heart disease.
Why has coconut oil become so popular recently? Perhaps because the coconut industry has been busy promoting the positive aspects of coconuts. Quite likely, many food companies want to remove trans fats (a particularly bad saturated fat) from processed foods. Yet, trans fats, like all saturated fats, offer a nice texture to cookies and baked goods. (There’s a reason why cookies are made with butter instead of olive oil!)
If the food industry is stopping the use of trans fats – and consumers are educated enough to avoid saturated fats – the industry needs to come up with a new way to make food appealing. Enter coconut butter, coconut oil – and also a hyped-up by-product called coconut water. (You know, the “all-natural” sports drink.)
The bottom line: Before you invest in a vat of coconut oil, think twice and wait for better research on its long term effect on your health. Perhaps a little dab will do ya?”
Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, is a sports nutrition consultant with the Boston Red Sox and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. For more sports nutrition information go to www.nancyclarkrd.com.