Crazy for coconut oil— published: 02-11-2013
Coconut oil has a sweet taste that lends distinct flavor to foods, and it contains several saturated fats—something the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest we eat less of. That is because eating saturated fats has been linked to atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”) and increased risk of heart disease.
Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it has different types of saturated fats. One of these—lauric acid—is regularly touted as having performance benefits. Lauric acid is referred to as a “medium chain fatty acid” (MCFA), and the body processes MCFAs differently than it does “long chain” fatty acids (LCFAs). Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly than long chain fatty acids, so they are quickly absorbed and available as an energy source. Some research suggests MCFAs might help to optimize and maintain glycogen stores, thus extending endurance performance. Not only that, MCFAs are less likely than other fats to be stored as fat—a plus if you’re concerned about weight control. The performance claims surrounding MCFAs and coconut oil have not held up, and claims about their weight loss benefits need more research.
The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics joint guidelines for Nutrition and Athletic Performance indicate that MCFAs do not provide any performance benefit. To date, only two studies have shown improvements in performance. On the other hand, MCFAs have been shown to increase the body’s use of “fats” as fuels, reducing food intake, so such products may promote weight loss. There just isn’t enough information available to make any scientific conclusions.
If you choose to eat coconut oil, do so in moderation for its unique flavor and texture, because its health and performance benefits are still open for consideration.