Are Saturated Fats in Coconut Oil?

by Aglaee Jacob

About Aglaee Jacob

Aglaee Jacob is a registered dietitian. She has experience working with people who have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity issues. Jacob obtained a bachelor of science and a master of science, both in nutrition, from Laval University in Quebec City, Canada.

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Coconut oil is obtained by extracting the fat from the coconut meat. The oil obtained is solid below 65 degrees Fahrenheit but becomes liquid above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It has a mild coconut taste and can be used in your everyday cooking as it has been used for generations in the Pacific Islands.

Coconut Oil and Saturated Fats

Coconut oil is rich in fat, providing a total of 13.6 grams of fat per tablespoon, of which 11.8 grams are saturated. This represents a total of 218 grams of total fat per cup, of which 188.6 grams are saturated fats. The saturated fat content of coconut oil is higher than what is found in butter, which corresponds to 11.5 grams of total fat and 7.3 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon or 184.1 grams of total fat and 116.6 grams of saturated fat per cup.

Saturated Fats and Health

Although coconut oil is rich in saturated fats and saturated fats have been blamed for causing heart disease for decades, it is not necessarily bad for your health. A meta-analysis published in the January 2010 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" looked at the data obtained from 21 of the best designed studies that evaluated the association between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. The studies included almost 350,000 participants who were followed for periods ranging between 5 and 23 years. The meta-analysis showed that your saturated fat intake is not related to your risk of suffering from cardiovascular or coronary heart disease. As Dr. Mary G. Enig, an internationally renowned nutritionist and biochemist expert in fats and oils, explains, there actually was never any concluding evidence showing that animal fats rich in saturated fats pose issues for your heart health, as detailed in her book "Know Your Fats." Rather, Enig claims that trans fatty acids, excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils and consumption of oxidized fats are the leading causes for the increased prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in Westernized societies.

Medium-Chain Fatty Acids and Lauric Acid

About half of the fat contained in coconut oil is found in the form of medium-chain fatty acids, a class of fat containing 8 to 12 carbons. The main medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil is called lauric acid, fat that is found in human milk and also added to infant formulas. In addition to having antimicrobial properties, lauric acid does not adversely influence blood cholesterol levels. In a study published in 1996 in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," a diet enriched in lauric acid resulted in a slight increase of total blood cholesterol levels, but this was due to an increase in the heart-protective HDL cholesterol levels, without influencing LDL cholesterol or triglycerides levels. According to Dr. George Blackburn, a Harvard Medical School researcher, "coconut oil has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol, even in situations where coconut oil is the sole source of fat," as published in "The Coconut Oil Miracle."

Using Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is safe to use despite its high saturated fat content. You can use it as you would use any other oil: to cook vegetables, meat, chicken or shrimp. You can also use it for baking. Replace vegetable oil, butter or margarine with the same amount of coconut oil. As with any other fat or oil, use coconut oil in moderation because it is still high in fat calories despite its health benefits. Coconut oil can also be used on your scalp, hair and skin as a moisturizing treatment.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.