Coconut oil is being promoted by some as a “perfect” food. This is common in the CrossFit and Paleo communities. Coconut oil is like animal fat in that it is high in saturated fat. Many paleo followers are told that a diet high in saturated fat is ideal for health. Coconut oil is easier for most people to tolerate than eating similar amounts of lard. What do we actually know about diets high in saturated vs. unsaturated fat?
Diet, research and unsaturated fat.
Some studies have found that diets high in Omega-6 unsaturated fats may increase inflammation. General inflammation is a marker for a number of chronic diseases. Other studies have found that diets high in omega-6s may cause insulin resistance and increase risk of diabetes. Also found is an association of omega-6s with poor blood cholesterol profiles. Most of these studies have been done with animals. Such as mice.Other studies have found that diets high in omega-6s reduce inflammation. And improve cholesterol profiles. Most of these studies were done in humans. At present, we do not know what is best as far as omega-6s are concerned. We are not discussing the role of Omega-3s here. But they are important too.
Back to diet, coconut oil and saturated fat.
A new study in mice has found that a diet containing 12% saturated was worse in a number of ways. (Compared to diets with 6% or 24% saturated fat). A 12% saturated fat diet is typical for Americans. A 12% saturated fat diet caused the most gain in body fat, the most insulin resistance, and the most inflammation. Inspite of the fact that all animals got 40% of their calories from fat. The take away here is, at least for mice, the type of fat consumed matters. What about the low vs. high saturated fat mice? The high saturated fat diet caused the lowest insulin resistance. This might mean that a high saturated fat diet is better for avoiding diabetes. But it also gave the highest total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio. A high total cholesterol/hdl cholesterol ratio is a risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Coconut oil and diet take away.
No one has all the answers. There’s a lot we do not know. And until we know more it would be best to be wary of people who claim that what they know is enough.
Enos RT, Davis JM, Velázquez KT, McClellan JL, Day SD, Carnevale KA, & Murphy EA (2013). Influence of dietary saturated fat content on adiposity, macrophage behavior, inflammation, and metabolism: composition matters. Journal of lipid research, 54 (1), 152-63 PMID: 23103474