Coconut oil has many good qualities in its favor. As a solid, saturated fat that doesn’t easily become rancid at room temperature or break down with high heat, it can be used to enhance baked goods and cook or fry foods. Besides being a valuable ingredient in food preparation, coconut oil has specific health benefits that make it worthwhile adding to our diets.
Topping the list is the fact that coconut oil makes an excellent replacement for trans fats in processed foods. Hydrogenated vegetable oils that are solid at room temperature form the basis of margarine and vegetable shortening and can be found in hundreds of bakery items and other foods where a solid fat delivers the richness and mouth-feel that people enjoy and have come to expect. At the time, nutritionists championed the replacement of solid animal fats (which they believed were a major contributor to coronary artery disease) with what they then thought were more healthful, artificially solid vegetable fats.
Over the years, however, trans fats became implicated in a growing array of health problems, primarily heart disease-the very ailment for which they were thought to be protective. A number of studies showed that trans fats increased showed that trans fats increased bad cholesterol (LDL) and decreased good cholesterol (HDL). (In a double-blind study published in 1992, researchers in the Netherlands looked at the effects of replacing animal fats and hydrogenated oils with palm oil, another saturated tropical oil similar to coconut oil. (In a double blind study such as this, participants are divided in to two groups, each group consuming a different diet. Halfway through the study the two groups switch diets so that it’s easier to determine whether the test results are a result of the diets or other factors particular to the participants themselves.) Although the diet using palm oil didn’t lower total cholesterol levels, it did lower LDL cholesterol by 8 percent and increased HDL cholesterol by 11 percent.
A 2001 study done in the Netherlands showed that replacing foods containing trans fats with those containing saturated fats (particularly foods in which lauric acid, the primary fat in coconut oil, made up about one third of the saturates) also improved HDL cholesterol levels. The use of lauric acid (the primary fat in palm oil) was the main saturated fat. Although palm kernel oil (which is different from palm oil) was the high-lauric saturated fat used in this study, the researchers commented that coconut oil is also a rich source of this fatty acid, suggesting that they would get similar result with coconut oil.
Holzapfel, C. /. (2004). Coconut Oil for Helath and Beauty. Summertown,Tennessee: Healthy Living Publications.