By Elliot Fisher MS, ATC, CSCS, PES
Saturated fat is typically thought of as the less healthy fat. There has been mixed research on saturated fats and health. One of the likely reasons for this conflict in research is because coconut oil is a saturated fat but has a lot of health benefits. Coconut oil is great for heart health, specifically for blood lipids, as well as having antimicrobial and antiviral properties.(1) In this blog we will focus on the heart health benefits and look at one study demonstrating this in particular.
Blood lipids are comprised of low density lipoproteins (LDL), very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), high density lipoproteins (HDL), and triglycerides (TG); total cholesterol is also a measure of importance. In most instances the goal is to keep LDL, VLDL, and TG low, and HDL high. This is important for heart health because LDL and VLDL cholesterol can build up in arteries overtime causing different forms of cardiovascular disease. HDL helps remove cholesterol build up in the arteries.
A study published in 2018 looked at the effects on blood lipids consuming different fat sources.(2) In this study 50 grams of fat was added to the participants diet. This fat came from either butter, extra virgin olive oil, or extra virgin coconut oil. Blood lipids were measured before and after the intervention. The butter group had an increase in LDL of 9%, an increase in hdl of about 5%, and an increase in total cholesterol of about 3%. The extra virgin olive oil showed a decrease in ldl cholesterol of about 1-2%, an increase in HDL of about 6%, and a decrease in total cholesterol by about 4%. Extra virgin coconut oil had a decrease in LDL of about 3%, an increase in HDL of about 13%, and a decrease in total cholesterol by about 8%. Looking at these numbers it’s shocking to see how superior the extra virgin coconut oil was even compared to olive oil which is a pretty well established healthy fat source.
After reviewing this article you may be convinced to start consuming more coconut oil. Coconut oil has more positive research on it’s health benefits. One important note is the health benefits of coconut oil are more likely found in extra virgin coconut oil not regular coconut oil. Regular coconut oil is largely refined which may strip some of the valuable nutrients and properties from the food.(3) Also, it’s important to remember that total daily calories is one of the most important factors for health. If you eat a large caloric surplus and then add tablespoons of coconut oil (which is pretty calorie dense at 120 calories per tablespoon) you’ll likely not have a lot of health improvement and will likely put on some extra body fat as well. It’s probably better to use it in place of other fat sources like butter or olive oil when possible, or to eat it as a supplement once a day. I personally have 1 tablespoon every morning with breakfast to get some of the health benefits of coconut oil. I usually don’t consume more unless I have a meal that it’s easy to add to or if I need some extra calories on that day.
- Ogbolu, D. O., Oni, A. A., Daini, O. A., & Oloko, A. P. (2007). In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria. Journal of medicinal food, 10(2), 384-387.
- Khaw, K. T., Sharp, S. J., Finikarides, L., Afzal, I., Lentjes, M., Luben, R., & Forouhi, N. G. (2018). Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women. BMJ open, 8(3), e020167.
- Carandang, E. V. (2008). Health benefits of virgin coconut oil. INDIAN COCONUT JOURNAL-COCHIN-, 38(9), 8.