Recently, there are some reports saying that coconut oil benefits our body in many different ways, such as helping us to lose weight, preventing cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis, even slowing down the decline in cognitive impairment. We visited some professionals to explore the truth behind these claims. Many professionals pointed out that at this stage, there were no adequate clinical researches to confirm that coconut oil has the above-mentioned effects. It may be better first to understand the composition of coconut oil before one decides objectively whether it is suitable as a daily cooking oil.
The fatty acid structure of common edible oils can generally be divided into three types: saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The following are the proportions of fatty acids in our commonly used edible oils:
Coconut oil fat content
(Source of Information: the website of Koo Foundation Sun Yat-Sen Cancer Center)
From the above chart, one can see that coconut oil is a vegetable oil containing about 90% saturated fatty acids, which is two times higher than those contained in lard or chicken oil. The lauric acid contained in coconut oil is a saturated fatty acid; and some studies have found that lauric acid can enhance more effectively the “good” cholesterol in our body than other saturated fatty acids. However, attention should also be paid to the relationship between saturated fats in diets and heart diseases. The American Heart Association has published a report on dietary fats and heart disease, which showed a connection between the two. Excessive intake of saturated fatty acids in the diet raises the blood cholesterol level, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the recommendation of the World Health Organization, the average adult's saturated fat intake should be less than 10% of his caloric intake. Therefore, the long-term excessive consumption of coconut oil may lead to increase in the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
According to a 2017 (June) study by the American Heart Association, it is recommended that the intake of saturated fats should be restricted to up to 5% of total calories. With reference to coconut oil, nutritionists suggest that other vegetable oils that are rich in unsaturated fats may be preferred over coconut oil. These vegetable oils are also rich in vitamin E, which helps to maintain good health. For example:
Can coconut oil help weight control?
As for the claim that coconut oil helps one to control weight, Helen Chu, an US registered dietitian, has the following comments: "There is no reliable scientific evidence that coconut oil can reduce weight." In fact, like other edible oils, coconut is very high in calories. 1 tablespoon of coconut oil contains 115 calories, so it is unlikely that it can help reduce weight. On the contrary, excessive consumption can create the risk of obesity.”
Slowing down cognitive impairment?
Some people also say that eating coconut oil can help slow down cognitive impairment. The basis of this claim is that human brain cells use glucose as their primary nutrient; and whenever the brain cells do not obtain adequate glucose from one’s blood, they will resort to ketone acid as its secondary nutrient. In early dementia, the ability of brain cells to use glucose is weakened, resulting in a slowing down of brain operation due to insufficient nutrition. Coconut oil has a middle bond fatty acid that helps the body to generate ketone acid, which in turn can be used by the brain cells. Hence the theory that coconut oil can be used as an alternative energy source for the brain, which then helps alleviating brain degeneration symptoms.
However, we still need empirical evidences to substantiate the claim. In June 2013 the United States conducted some clinical trials on the potential impact of coconut oil on the human body. The number of participants in the trials was however not sufficient to provide convincing proofs. Hence, according to the Alzheimer's Society, the Association of Cognitive Disorders in Canada and in the United Kingdom, there are currently no research results supporting this claim.
In addition, the Alzheimer's Society also pointed out that fats in coconut oil might indirectly increase the level of a protein called "acetylcholinesterase", an increase of which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, reducing the level of this protein is one of the treatments of cognitive disorders
Therefore, it is very important to ensure the safety of food and nutritious substances; even before one can demonstrate that these alimentary substances are effective ways for treating some diseases and can be widely used.
It is important and necessary to keep a balanced diet and to exercise regularly in order to maintain a healthy body and to effectively reduce the risk of common health problems
Acknowledgement: Helen Chu, US registered nutritionist, provides professional advice for this article.