Coconut oil is often included on the list of superfoods, but does it deserve to be there? Read on to find out.

First, some background: Coconut oil is made up of more saturated fat than just about any other single food source, 90 percent to be exact (to put it in perspective, butter contains only 64 percent). While that much saturated fat might have you questioning its status as a “health food,” some research suggests that saturated fat does not raise your risk of coronary heart disease.

What’s more, the fat in coconut oil may be good for you. About half of the saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT). How do these compare to the typical long-chain triglycerides (LCT) found in most vegetable oils?

  • Because MCTs are smaller, they pass through cell membranes more easily than LCTs, which require lipoproteins or special enzymes for your body to break down.
  • MCTs are more easily digested and are less taxing on your digestive system.
  • When you eat MCTs, they are immediately converted into energy, as opposed to LCTs, which are stored as fat.

There are many health claims about coconut oil. Some have been backed up by small early studies, though, by and large, doctors and nutritionists feel more research needs to be done. Here’s a look at some of the claims.

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Claim: Coconut oil boosts your metabolism.

You may burn calories faster after eating coconut oil thanks to the MCTs. Coconut oil can help you increase your energy expenditure compared to eating oils with LCTs, found this study and this one.

Claim: Coconut oil will make your waist smaller.

One study found that women who supplemented their diets with coconut oil had a smaller waist line at the end of the 12-week study than women who were given soy bean oil. They also had lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and higher HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels.

Claim: Eating coconut oil can decrease your appetite.

One study found that men who ate the most MCTs ate fewer calories overall. Another study found that men who had MCTs at breakfast ate fewer calories later in the day.

Claim: Coconut oil protects against yeast infections.

Virgin coconut oil was proven to be 100 percent effective against candida albicans, a common cause of yeast infections in humans, found one study. 

Claim: It protects against Alzheimer’s disease.

The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease appear to have trouble using glucose as an energy source. One study found that supplementing diets of mild Alzheimer’s patients with MCTs can provide an immediate memory boost.

“I believe in incorporating more whole plant-based foods into one’s diet,” says Jennifer Rose Boozer, DO, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and family medicine physician at Keck Medicine of USC – Glendale and Pasadena. Oils are simply liquid fat and the addition of oil usually lead to increased overall calorie consumption. There’s just not enough evidence yet for me to recommend supplementation with coconut oil. For now, you can use the oil to help soften your skin.

The verdict? Make eating fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins the main focus of your diet and include limited healthy fats, such as coconut oil and olive oil.

If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the best digestive experts in the world, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://digestive.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.

By Anne Fritz