Until recently, coconut oil was considered a highly saturated and, therefore, an unhealthy fat. But customers are snatching it up for use on their skin, in their hair, for cooking, making smoothies, improving athletic performance and for a variety of other reported health benefits.
Nothing has really changed about coconut oil’s fat composition. It still contains about 90 percent saturated fat — a much higher proportion than butter or even lard. However, unlike fats from animal sources, coconut oil is unusual because of its high percentage of medium-chain fatty acids or MCTs.
Researchers say this healthy type of fatty acid is easy for your body to quickly burn for energy and is less likely to form artery-clogging LDL (bad) cholesterol. Coconut oil also has a saturated fat called lauric acid, a type of MCT that in some studies has been shown to increase the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help improve cholesterol ratio levels.
They also point out that in the Pacific Islands, where coconut oil makes up 30 percent to 60 percent of the diet; heart disease rates are very low.
“Coconut oil’s special HDL-boosting effect may make it ‘less bad’ than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it’s still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease, some scientists say, adding that olive oil and soybean oil are healthier.
Most experts agree that while eating coconut oil in moderation isn’t likely to harm your health; further studies need to be conducted to determine whether coconut oil is capable of many of the claims. Despite emerging research, the recommendation is still to limit your total saturated fat intake.