A few weeks ago, my nephew Daniel told me that he made my apple muffins. He enjoyed them so much that he made a second batch the same day. But, because he ran out of canola oil, he used coconut oil instead. The coconut oil gave the muffins a delicious tropical and natural sweet flavour and the house smelled wonderful.
However, I rarely include coconut oil in my recipes and I wrote to Daniel to explain why.
For years, there has been much debate among nutrition experts on the use and health benefits of coconut oil. In fact, this morning I noticed in a post that I wrote on the Mediterranean diet that I had mistakenly linked “healthy fats” to an article that included coconut oil among a list of other healthy foods and oils. Sometimes the hand is quicker than the eye and I have replaced the link with one that I believe is more appropriate.
According to experts, coconut oil is high in saturated fat and can raise LDL levels; i.e., the bad cholesterol. There’s a strong link between high cholesterol levels and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults limit their saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of their total daily calories. And, for people who need to lower their LDL cholesterol, to no more than 5 to 6 percent.
There is also evidence that coconut oil boosts HDL; i.e., the good cholesterol. Because coconut oil boosts both types of cholesterol, experts claim that this does not mean that it’s healthy. According to Harvard Health Publishing, having higher HDL cholesterol may not be as beneficial for your heart health after all.
Other studies on indigenous populations who consume large amounts of coconut don’t show any negative effects on heart health. However, the traditional diets in these populations include more unprocessed foods than the typical North American diets (and their lifestyle is also different) and therefore, the results cannot be applied to Western diets.
Coconut oil is viewed as both healthy and unhealthy. Because of the uncertainties, I am cautious with the oil. From time to time, I use coconut milk or cream, but in moderation. Or, I’ll sprinkle grated coconut flesh on a dessert or a smoothie. Sometimes I use coconut oil topically for dry skin.
Whether it’s for a recipe or for cosmetics, I only use the “virgin” coconut oil instead of the hydrogenated oil. In virgin coconut oil, the oil is extracted from fresh coconut flesh at low temperatures without being refined, bleached or deodorized. When coconut oil is hydrogenated, it converts to a trans fat, which is the type of fat that raises LDL cholesterol that causes heart disease.