Coconut oil is great for cosmetics, but should we consume it?

Stacey Arnold

I have a friend who consumes a couple spoonfuls of coconut oil in addition to her breakfast every morning. She claims it will help her lose weight. Is she crazy, or should I follow her example?

Is she coco-NUTS?

Articles on how coconut oil heals cracked skin, moisturizes dry cuticles, and conditions frizzy hair circulate on popular social media websites. Sure, the tropical oil may be able to do it all when it comes to cosmetics and beauty regimens, but be careful about adding it to your snacks and meals. Coconut oil does not have such a cure-all impact on your diet.

Unlike most plant-based oils — think olive, peanut, and canola — coconut oil is solid at room temperature. Odd that it’s called an “oil,” huh?  Coconut oil differs from its liquid companions because it contains a high percentage of saturated fat — 92 percent, according to Nutrition Reviews. This is the dietary fat we all should limit in our diet!

If you haven’t read my article on dietary fats, I’ll give a quick synopsis: Saturated fats are made up of rigid molecules that easily stack on top of each other, making them solid at room temperature. Many health professionals encourage individuals to limit saturated fat intake because it can elevate bad cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association suggests that only five to six percent of daily calories should come from saturated fat. Keep in mind that the average American already consumes plenty of saturated fat in fast food, processed food and meat and dairy products.

The 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines classify coconut oil as a solid fat, not an oil, because of the fatty acid composition. This means that the praised coconut oil falls into the same category as butter, lard and shortening. That might be something to think about before having a spoonful with breakfast.

Companies may defend coconut oil’s saturated fat content by boasting about how it is also a rich source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). As the name suggests, MCTs are fatty acids that have carbon molecules of medium length — eight, ten, or 12 carbons.

MCTs are easily broken down by the body and are less likely to be stored as fat compared to other fatty acids. MCTs have also been shown to aid weight loss. However, the MCTs in coconut oil are not the same type as the MCTs with fat-bashing benefits, according to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Currently, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics does not recommend the consumption of coconut products.

My advice to coconut consumers everywhere: treat coconut oil as you would butter. No need for supplementation or spoonfuls, but I will say, it does make a great moisturizer.