Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Coconut Oil and Milk: Is it worth the squeeze?

You may have noticed over the past few years that Coconut is being touted as a superfood. There is now Coconut Milk on supermarket shelves, Coconut Oil being marketed as the latest "EVOO" in terms of heart health, and other coconut extracts being used as weight loss aids. If you don't believe me, here are just some of the claims I found upon an internet search for coconut:

Coconut Oil: Lowers cholesterol, is anti-thyroid (enhances weight loss), anti-cancer, anti-microbial, regulates blood sugar, controls hunger and cravings, reduces viral effects of HIV/AIDS, improves hair, skin, aids with stress relief, increases immunity, improves digestion, dental health, and bone strength
Coconut Milk: Aids in immunity, the Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) aid in weight loss, and it is a "good source" of vitamins and minerals
Coconut Water: Replaces fluid and electrolytes in the body, kills intestinal worms, breaks up kidney stones, can be used as human plasma, is antibacterial, and reduces vomiting.

Coconut Oil is approximately 91% saturated fat (see below), which the majority of long-term and reputable studies show as being linked to an increased risk for heart disease. However, many of the health claims associated with coconut oil are related to the fact that most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is made of MCTs which are digested differently than the normal long-chain triglycerides. Most of the studies showing evidence for weight loss associated with MCT consumption are when half of a persons daily calories come from MCTs (which is highly unrealistic). 
Chart Source: Canola Council of Canada
 

Overall, the possible cholesterol-lowering benefits of coconut oil remain controversial. Many epidemiological studies follow Pacific Islander populations that consume higher quantities of coconut (compared to the average American) and have lower levels of cholesterol and a lower prevalence of heart disease. However, these populations that consume lots of coconut also tend to follow a mostly plant-based diet which is determined to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of heart disease. Walter Willet, the department chair of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health says that while coconut oil may not make cholesterol ratios worse, the oil does not compare to olive or canola oil in terms of improving cholesterol ratios and ultimately benefitting heart health.

Coconut water seems to be a good alternative to sports drinks like Gatorade and does have important electrolytes such as potassium. So overall, coconut water seems to be a nutrient dense and low-calorie alternative to juices or sports drinks.

My recommendation: Research is still extremely inconclusive about the health effects of coconut oil. I advise you not to consume high quantities of coconut oil, milk, or cream, but also, do not completely avoid the stuff. Everything in moderation! Just don't expect coconut products to work miracles such as making your cholesterol levels perfect, allowing you to lose 10 lbs quickly, or make your immunity so strong that you never get a cold again.

References:
1.  B. Martena, M. Pfeuffer, J. Schrezenmeir (2006). "Medium-chain triglycerides". International Dairy Journal 16 (11): 1374–1382. 
2.  Martijti B Katan, Peter L Zock, and Ronald P Mensink, Effects of fats and fatty acids on blood lipids in humans: an overview, Am J Cli. Nutr., 1994;60(suppl):lOl7S-22S. [link]
3. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/heart/articles/2009/08/10/do-coconut-oil-and-coconut-water-provide-health-benefits.html
4. http://www.gastongazette.com/news/nutrition-49792-topic-food.html
5. http://www.coconutoil.com/research.htm
6. http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-oils/organic-coconut-oil/health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.html
7. http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/cgi-bin/measure.pl
8. http://www.brighthub.com/health/alternative-medicine/articles/42701.aspx
9. http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/cgi-bin/measure.pl
10. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/735177/seven_benefits_of_coconut_water.html?cat=5
11. http://www.healthandnutritiontips.net/coconut_water_benefits/coconut_water_benefits.html
12. http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/cgi-bin/measure.pl

2 comments:

thomas peter said...

You may have noticed over the past few years that Coconut is being touted as a superfood. There is now Coconut Milk on supermarket shelves, Coconut Oil being marketed...coconut water health benefits

Blogger said...

3 Studies PROVE Why Coconut Oil Kills Fat.

This means that you actually kill fat by consuming coconut fats (including coconut milk, coconut cream and coconut oil).

These 3 studies from big medical journals are sure to turn the traditional nutrition world upside down!