Coconut oil falls under the category of foods that some people consider to be a miracle food, and others claim to be poison. Some diets and blogs applaud embrace the oil and speak highly of its alleged health benefits, while others see it as toxic goo that should be avoided at all costs. Which begs the question: is coconut oil good for you?
Let’s take a look at the current state of the science, and see what it says about coconut oil, and I’ll let you make your own conclusions.
*Disclaimer: As always, this is general information intended for healthy adults to gather general information. Your needs may vary based on medical status, lifestyle, or life-stage. Please never replace generalized health information you’ve read online with individualized clinical ca
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is a tropical oil made from the kernel (aka the white ‘meat’) of mature coconuts.
There are two types of coconut oil found commonly in the marketplace: copra oil, which is typically made from dried coconut meat, and virgin coconut oil (VCO), which is processed from fresh coconut meat within 24 hours. The two forms have similar nutrient profiles, but VCO is considered “unrefined.”
So what does the science say? Is coconut oil good for you?
Many people believe the fat in coconut oil has beneficial properties; it is often touted upon for containing medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are absorbed differently than short and long chain fatty acids, and there has been some data to suggest that MCFAs have some unique and potentially beneficial properties.
It is true that MCFAs are considered to be absorbed more efficiently than long chain fatty acids. Unlike other fatty acids, which must be transported through the lymph, MCFAs are transported from the gut directly to the liver, and can enter the mitochondria independently of the carnitine transport system. They also undergo preferential oxidation, meaning they are quickly harvested as fuel for the body.
However, coconut oil is not primarily composed of MCFAs; in fact, it typically contains no more than 14% MCFAs, and is about 80-90% saturated fat.
LDL is a type of cholesterol often referred to as ‘the bad cholesterol,’ as it allows cholesterol to build up in the blood, and can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, which is currently the number one killer in the United States.
It’s recommended that most people consume only 7-10% of their total calories from saturated fat; even less (usually 5-6%) is recommended for those with elevated LDL levels.
Seeing as coconut oil is rich in saturated fats, many major scientific and medical regulatory advisory boards, including the American Heart Association, have suggested limiting or avoiding coconut oil consumption, and replacing it with other types of fat (like mono and polyunsaturated fats, see this article for more).
A review of coconut oil and cardiovascular risk factors published in 2016 supports this recommendation.
Some news headlines and health influencers have also given the public the impression that coconut oil can be used for prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, bone loss, and glycemic (blood sugar) control.
An actual look at the data behind these claims suggests all studies on these disease topics are limited, and fail to show significant or consistent properly-powered results.…