By Melissa Gallardo
Although saturated fat is typically associated with animal fat, coconut oil and palm oil are exceptions to the rule. 1 tbsp of coconut oil contains 12g of saturated fat, coming ahead of both butter (7g per tbsp) and lard (5g per tbsp). According to Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies “the fatty acids of coconut oil, even in virgin oils, are still more saturated than those of cream and may add to heart disease risk.”
Many of us have come across articles giving us anywhere from 10 to 100 health benefits and uses for coconut oil, and although some of these claims may have some truth, the reality is that there has not been enough research conducted to support the claims. When it comes to coconut oil, most research pertains to its effects on cholesterol. The controversy lies in some of the oil’s fatty acid chains which have been proven to raise good cholesterol levels. Despite this benefit, in an article published by the Huffington Post, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, Sonya Angelone, MS, R.D. explains that in reality only about 10 to 15 percent of all of its fat is beneficial. Even with the good cholesterol increase, based on the content, coconut oil does not fall under a “healthy” food.
When it comes to labeling, health claims must meet certain requirements. For example to be labeled as “healthy,” the product must be low in fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium and contain at least 10% of the Daily Value for vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein, or fiber. This past year, the FDA filed a warning letter to Carrington Farms Coconut Oil for violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The violation occurred when Carrington Farms made unauthorized health claims, many of which are the ones we often read about. Claims failing to comply with such requirements included, “healthy,” “low saturated fat,” “rich in antioxidants,” and claims relating to the improvement of cholesterol and diabetes.
The American Heart Association recommends saturated fat intake to be limited to 13g a day, and although 1 tbsp falls under this recommendation, this would be assuming that you won’t be consuming saturated in fat in the rest of your meals. This article’s intention is not to shame coconut oil, but rather to bring your attention to the importance of really reading food labels. A product can make claims without adhering to FDA regulations but you can almost always fact check the product by reading the nutrition label on the back. Cooking with coconut oil from time to time won’t be the end of your health but we would definitely recommend using it lightly.
Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies, 13th edition
Frances Sizer, Ellie Whitney