The poor reputation that saturated fat has led many to avoid consuming not just animal foods such as red meat and cheese, but certain plant foods that are rich in this brand of fat, notably coconut. However, the fact that there is no evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease (see here), not that fat is inherently fattening means that I can see no particular reason for avoiding saturated fat rich food, whether animal or plant in origin.
Some have suggested that certain saturated fatty acids might have benefits for health. Coconut oil, for instance, is rich in what are known as medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which some work suggests might actually help to protect against fat accumulation in the body . In a recent study, women were prescribed a lower-calorie diet (and 50 mins of walking a day) and in addition were supplemented with 30 mls of coconut oil each day for 12 weeks . Another group of women were prescribed the same diet and exercise programme, but instead of being supplemented with coconut oil, were given soybean oil instead.
Both groups lost weight, but only the group taking the coconut oil saw a significant reduction in their waist circumference. This is significant, in that waist circumference is a measure of ‘abdominal obesity’ (the form of obesity most associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes).
In addition, those on the coconut oil, compared to those taking the soybean oil, saw increase in levels of ‘healthy’ HDL cholesterol and lower LDL:HDL ratio, both of which are believed to be associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
The results of this study suggest that incorporation of coconut oil into the diet may be beneficial in terms of reduction of fatty accumulation around the midriff, and might also have benefits on the health of the cardiovascular system too.
1. Takeuchi H, et al. The application of medium-chain fatty acids: edible oil with a suppressing effect on body fat accumulation. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:320-3.
2. Assunço ML, et al. Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity. Lipids. 13 May 2009 [Epub ahead of print publication]