So today I read an article where a Harvard professor declared coconut oil is “pure poison”. Say what now?
A few days ago, a couple of my blog readers asked me to talk about the health benefits of coconut oil. So I decided this was a perfect time to write this post I’ve been meaning to for a while now!
Over 70% people think that coconut oil is healthy, based on polls. Everywhere you look it is being hailed as a wonderful super food, and some fanatics go so far as to suggest that coconut oil is the cure for almost any disease if used in sufficient quantity. Maybe it’s because coconut oil is made from coconut, which is a fruit (yup it’s a fruit I looked it up). Maybe it’s all the beautiful recipes on Pinterest and Instagram which feature coconut oil as a healthy ingredient in your baked goods , smoothies and sautes. So then how could it possibly be poison?
My head hurts, you guys.
I’ll be honest, there’s so much contradictory information out there, which just goes to show how controversial the topic is. I had to really analyze the quality of the evidence, and threw out any literature that didn’t have strong studies to back the claims. I also realized that although there are many studies out there, most of them are pretty small (sometimes they only analyzed a few dozen people for example), and everyone knows that the best studies are the ones that include a large population size.
So anyway, based on what I’ve researched, here is a quick summary with some links for your viewing pleasure.
- Coconut oil is 82% saturated fat, composed of 2/3 Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFA) like lauric acid, which might POSSIBLY reduce cardiovascular risk and improve brain health. It is not clear if the potential benefit of the MCFAs outweighs the known risk of the other types of saturated fat in coconut oil
- Coconut oil does increase LDL cholesterol (in some studies, not all). LDL cholesterol is a known cause of heart disease; however, recent evidence is showing that there are actually different TYPES of LDL particles (the small dense type which is bad, and a larger fluffy particles which may actually be good). This is relatively new research which is still evolving
- Coconut oil also increases HDL cholesterol (the “good” type which has been said to be protective for your heart-although now they’re not so sure about that either? Omg!)
- Coconut oil is touted as a weight loss agent but the actual evidence is very small
- Virgin coconut oil has the same fat content as the refined kind (but refined has a higher smoking point so is better for cooking)
Based on the current literature, the American Heart Association came out with a statement against use of coconut oil. Tell that to the #coconutoilforeverything crowd!
Many coconut oil advocates argue that some studies actually don’t show that high-saturated fat diet is worse for heart health than a low-saturated fat one. However, some of those studies have been criticized, because they don’t account for the fact that when people in the studies followed a diet LOW in saturated fat, they potentially had increased the amount of refined carbohydrates in their diet to compensate (which is bad for your heart, thus messing up the overall result).
Right now, I’m not comfortable recommending a diet high in coconut oil to anyone. More research needs to be done to determine if the type of LDL particles that coconut oil increases are the “good” or “bad” type, and basically just more studies need to be done and combined to get a larger population size.
So, what do I recommend to patients? Don’t go diving headfirst into a vat of coconut oil anytime soon. Small amounts are probably ok if you don’t have underlying risk factors but for those with heart disease or at high risk, I’d probably focus on the oils widely known to be heart healthy, like olive oil.
Hope I didn’t give you too much of a headache with that one!