Publication date: February 2019.
In the West, coconut has risen to superfood status. Various claims are made for different coconut products, such as coconut milk, virgin coconut oil, coconut water, and coconut cream. Such claims include cholesterol reduction, weight reduction, diabetes management, and antiviral and bactericidal properties.
Coconut oil has a mild, nutty, vanilla flavor. Pastries made with coconut oil have a nice, flaky crust. It is a very stable oil for cooking, but not recommended for continuous deep fat frying due to its low smoke point (about 175oC or 350oF) and potential production of harmful substances when overheating.
Coconut oil has been called the healthiest oil on earth. However, the FDA does not allow a product to be labeled as healthy if a serving contains more than 1 gram of saturated fat or more than 15% of the calories come from saturated fat. Coconut oil cannot be labeled as healthy since it contains 12 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, and has 83% of its calories from saturated fat. Coconut milk has 4 to 5 grams/serving of saturated fat, and saturated fat comprises up to 80% of the calories.
Virgin coconut oil comes from a wet extraction process without the use of chemicals or heat. Regular coconut oil comes from extraction of the dried coconut meat (copra) and is typically bleached, deodorized, and refined.
Many of the claims about coconut oil’s health benefits come from the belief that coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCT). Triglycerides containing short to medium chain fatty acids are water soluble and more readily absorbed and metabolized quicker than long-chain fatty acids. While promoters of coconut oil claim lauric acid (12 carbon chain length) is a medium chain fatty acid it actually behaves in the body like a long-chain fatty acid. Lauric acid makes up 45% of the composition of coconut oil. Coconut oil contains 3-4% MCT and only about 15% medium chain fatty acids (2).