The Lowdown on Coconut Oil
By Terry Stephens
Perhaps you have read the recent headlines:
“Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” – USA Today.
“Nutrition experts warn coconut oil is on par with beef fat, butter” – Chicago Tribune
“This popular health food is worse for you than pork lard” – Daily Star
These and similar statement are usually based upon “scientific” findings of institutions such as the AHA. Yes, the American Heart Association….the same enlightened organization that puts its seal of approval on such “wholesome” breakfast cereals as Cocoa Puffs, Trix, and Lucky Charms. Did it not also for years claim that eating trans fatty margarine was more healthy than butter? It’s unclear whether or not researchers at the AHA considered studies conducted of native people in the South Pacific who have for generations consumed prodigious amounts of coconut oil without being afflicted with heart disease. Probably not. No reason to. Because you see, coconut oil contains …uh saturated fat, and we all know that saturated fats have been responsible for more human deaths than second hand tobacco smoke and rising sea levels. Cursed be that fat molecule with no double bonds! Well… maybe not
Not all health experts have reached the same conclusions regarding saturated fats as the American Heart Association. Consider recent research published by the British Journal Of Medicine: BJM 2015; 351: h3978.
Also from the Mayo Clinic:
“For many years we have been told that to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD), we must lower our intake of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and instead eat more carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Backed up by the National Cholesterol Education Program, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Heart Association, the medical profession has promoted this idea eagerly although the number of contradictory scientific reports is almost endless. There is in fact much evidence that doing the opposite is more relevant…There is no evidence that a lower intake of SFA can prevent CVD and a high intake of PUFAs without specification may result in a high intake of omega-6, which is associated with many adverse health effects. Because there is much evidence that saturated fat may even be beneficial, we urge the American Heart Association…to consider the aforementioned evidence when updating their future guidelines”. - The Questionable Benefits of Exchanging Saturated Fat With Polyunsaturated Fat. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, April 2014
Okay, let’s take a quick look at the nutritional profile of coconut oil. Yes, it does have a 92% saturated fat content which is part of the reason it has been shunned by some in the medical community. But coconut oil is high in short and medium chain fatty acids which are more easily digested than most saturated fats. Coconut oil is over 40% lauric acid. A 2015 analysis suggests that many benefits linked to coconut oil (such as weight loss and maybe even protection against alzheimer’s disease) are derived from lauric acid. (1) Coconut oil is white and solid below (75 F) without spoiling. (2) Being a saturated fat, coconut oil is very stable at higher temperatures, more so than polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
Caprylic, capric and myristic acids found in coconut oil are known to be rich in antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Coconut oil does not lead to increases in LDL levels, and it reduces the incidence of damage and injury to arteries, therefore helping in preventing atherosclerosis.
As with any food or nutrient, moderation should be the rule and it would be recommended to use the unrefined and un-hydrogenated brands of coconut oil.
Coconut oil may or may not be the superfood that some maintain. But for optimal health the human body requires different types of fats. As for me, this calls for a sensible amount of saturated fats such as real butter and a little coconut oil.
(1)Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society, January 2015, Volume 92, Issue 1, pp 1-15
(2)“Coconut Oil”. Transport information service, German Ins. Assoc..Berlin 2015