Many claims tout the health benefits of coconut oil, including weight loss, cancer prevention, and Alzheimer’s disease. So far the scientific evidence does not support these claims. The three types of coconut oil—virgin, refined, and partially hydrogenated—are all high in saturated fat. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, tends to raise the level of cholesterol in the blood, and comes mainly from animal food products. Some examples of saturated fats are butter, lard, meat fat, solid shortening, palm oil, and coconut oil.
The two main types of coconut oil used in cooking and baking are “virgin” coconut oil and “refined” coconut oil. Virgin is considered to be unrefined. Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut pulp that is often chemically bleached and deodorized. Since coconuts are a plant and virgin coconut oil has some antioxidant properties, some individuals may view it as healthy. However, virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid, a type of fatty acid that can raise both good and bad cholesterol levels. Manufacturers may also use another form of coconut oil that has further processing—“partially hydrogenated” coconut oil, which would contain trans fat. Some research suggests coconut oil intake may be associated with a neutral, if not beneficial, effect on cholesterol levels.
Tips for using coconut oil:
- Use “virgin” or unrefined coconut oil.
- Use it in moderation.
- Limit foods made with partially hydrogenated coconut oil like baked goods, biscuits, salty snacks, and some cereals.
Allergy Alert: Coconut is considered a tree nut. Individuals with tree nut allergies should talk with their health care provider before using or eating foods containing coconut oil.
Source: Jody Gatewood, MS, RD, LD, Assistant State Nutrition Program Specialist, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach