The other day, I was cooking dinner with a friend who is on the paleo diet. The diet tries to emulate that of our paleolithic ancestors by including fish, grass-fed or free-range meats, vegetables, nuts, fruits, vegetables and the like – but excludes grains, beans, dairy, salt, sugar and processed oils.
While critiquing the paleo diet is beyond the scope of this article, I was surprised when my friend wanted to cook our meal with coconut oil. Like any health conscious individual, I immediately looked at the nutrition information – and was surprised to see a saturated fat content that is 6x higher than that of heart-healthy olive oil. In fact, a single tablespoon of coconut oil has more than 60% of you daily value of saturated fat. That’s more saturated fat than butter.
So, if coconut oil has so much saturated fat, why has it become a popular fad diet food? Coconut oil supporters point to the health and longevity of tropical populations that have been cooking with and consuming large quantities of coconut oil for hundreds of years. These coconut oil advocates don’t think the nutrition information tells the whole story. And they may have a point. For example, some of the fats in coconut oil are known as MCTs (short for medium-chain triglycerides), and they are metabolized quickly by the liver and less likely to be stored as body fat.
But it really comes down to the facts. And, according to the Food and Drug Administration, consumers should avoid coconut oil. Though there is some evidence that coconut oil may have beneficial properties, these studies haven’t yet met the FDA’s standards. Some of the studies are not extensive enough or adequately controlled enough to be scientifically valid or conclusive.
Of course, all that could change as coconut oil gains popularity and is subjected to additional research. And, it’s worth noting, both sides agree that processed or partially hydrogenated coconut oil (as opposed to virgin coconut oil) is unhealthy. When coconut oil is hydrogenated, it becomes a trans fat – something all of us should avoid.
In the meantime, I’m sticking with olive oil for my fat consumption needs. Just be sure to keep olive oil under 405 degrees Fahrenheit and use within six months of opening.