With so many dazzling claims about coconut oil, is there any science to back this coco-craze? Here are five things you need to know before you pour it on.
1.In the past, coconut oil was extracted from copra (dried coconut flesh) and sold in a solid block in the chilled section of supermarkets. Most of us will remember using it to make chocolate crackles! What you see today in the health food aisle is slightly different. This is usually made from fresh coconut (not dried), and uses a gentler, cold-pressed extraction procedure that is supposedly less damaging to our health.
2. There are no nutrients or natural ‘goodies’ in coconut oil, unlike other oils. For instance, extra virgin olive oil contains green chlorophyll and protective polyphenol antioxidants, and flaxseed oil has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Coconut oil is made of 90 per cent saturated fat. By comparison, olive oil is only 15 per cent sat fat and butter is 50 per cent. This high saturated fat content has sometimes been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, but the research jury is still out at this point.
4. While praised for its fat-burning benefits, coconut oil is actually extremely high in kilojoules, with a heaped tablespoon containing a hefty 700kJ (168cal). By comparison, butter has about 425kJ (102cal). This is the reason why raw desserts made with coconut oil can be unexpectedly high in kilojoules.
5. It’s not grown in Australia but is imported from the Philippines, Thailand or Indonesia. In contrast, buying sunflower, canola or olive oil supports Australian farmers.
The bottom line
In terms of kilojoules and total fat, coconut oil is no better or worse than other oils. But nutritionally, it is a poorer choice. However, if you’re after a mild coconut taste in your cooking, substitute it spoon for spoon for the oil or butter that you already use. But don’t add more coconut oil to your food based on its ‘superfood’ claims, or you may see your weight go up.