Coconut oil is a fat, just like butter, olive oil and canola oil are fats. But not all fats are nutritionally equal. Far from it. And that’s where the real coconut oil nutrition story begins. Coconut oil contains small amounts of iron and vitamins E and K, is rich in antioxidant compounds, provides 117 calories per tablespoon, the same as most other oils, and 13.6 grams of total fat—87% of that is saturated. That’s when eyebrows might be raised. But it’s the type of saturated fat that makes virgin coconut oil stand out from the rest.
All fats and oils are made up of individual fatty acids. We’ve been taught for decades that diets rich in saturated fatty acids, like those found in butter, lard and yes, coconut oil, raise blood cholesterol levels, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease. But, what we now know is that not all saturated fats act the same in the body and nutrition researchers are questioning the validity of that connection, especially when it comes to the type of saturated fat found in virgin coconut oil.
Like all plant oils, virgin coconut oil is cholesterol free, and is rich in a saturated fat called “lauric acid.” Because of its unique chemical structure, lauric acid is immediately used for energy, rather than being transported through the blood with other fat, or being stored in the body as fat. As a result, studies show the saturated fat found in virgin coconut oil won’t raise cholesterol in your blood. The same can’t be said for “partially hydrogenated coconut oil,” however, which has been processed, turning it into an artery clogging fat and should be avoided.
-Densie Webb, PhD, RD