Coconut Oil: Good Or Bad?

by in Food News, April 14, 2009


A couple weeks ago, some of you brought up the coconut oil controversy — with many praising this high-fat oil as a healthy choice. Eager to know more about the latest studies, I investigated more. Here’s what I found.

Saturated Fat Basics
Ever since restaurants started banning trans fats, tropical oils like coconut started making a comeback. With its high smoke, it is ideal for high-heat cooking methods like frying.

Coconut oil is one of the only plant-based sources of saturated fat (others include palm and palm kernel oils). Animal sources of saturated fat include butter, whole dairy products, beef and poultry skin. According to the American Heart Association, American Medical Association and USDA, we should limit our saturated fat to 7-10% of our daily calorie intake — this includes eating tropical oils such as coconut, which contains 92% saturated fat (one of the highest sources of saturated fats around).

According to the American Dietetics Association, 20-35% of daily calories should come from fat. They promote replacing most saturated and trans fats (e.g. margarine) with unsaturated fats such as olive, walnut and peanut oils.

The Controversies
Most old-school nutrition experts slam coconut oil because of its sat-fat content. Pro-coconut oil advocates, meanwhile, argue that the oil is easily absorbed because it’s a medium-chained triglyceride (I won’t go on about the science). However, there’s strong evidence that suggests the various fatty acids found in coconut oil, including lauric, palmitic and myristic acid (all medium-chained triglycerides), raise both LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol and total cholesterol.

Then there’s the argument that tropical regions use coconut oil as a staple, but they don’t have a higher heart disease rates when compared to areas that primarily use olive oil. Thing is, these tropical regions also don’t eat as many packaged processed and fatty fried foods as Americans! Plus, Americans like to eat out, and coconut oil is replacing the cooking oils used in restaurants these days (note that restaurant coconut oil isn’t the extra virgin coconut oil that pro-coconut folks advocate).

What the Studies Show
Studies released over the past 25 years show an overall pattern that coconut oil increases the risk for heart disease (check out this summary of studies for yourself). Just because a handful of studies show slightly different results doesn’t mean it’s a green light to throw years of research out the window.

The Recommendations
Since coconut oil is already in many packaged and restaurant foods, you shouldn’t use it as your cooking oil, too — especially if you have heart disease or it runs in the family. Stick to unsaturated oils such as olive, canola, peanut or walnut. But even use those sparingly (remember: all oils have about 120 calories per tablespoon). Save coconut oil for special dishes that you love to cook once in a while. If you still want to use it, replace other highly saturated fat foods such as butter and whole milk with extra virgin coconut oil, and be mindful to not go over 10% of your total calories. Avoid refined and hydrogenated versions, which have trans fats.

TELL US: Where do you stand in the coconut oil debate?

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Comments (97)

  1. Major thanks for the post. Really Cool.

  2. Monica says:

    People will do well never to comsume vegatable oils, such as soy bean, canola, and corn oil which are three of the worst ones out there for this reason: 1) These oils are highly unstable which means they break down quickly producing what are called (free radicals). They are so unstable that the oils begin to break down even at the time of processing them. The break down continues when these oils sit on shelves and are exposed to lighting, and the final insulat is when high heat or temperature is applied to them. Now as for the reason your cholesterol went down; when we consume too much of these oils they will cause damage to the vessel walls.

    When this happens, the bodies first line of defense is to pull cholesterol out of the blood and to drive it into the vessel wall to shore up the damage being done by the vegetable oils. That is why it appears to be a good thing when your cholesterol goes down. Yet, in actuality, it is not what you think, it is in fact a bad thing. What we need to do is know the body chemistry better.

    I would recommend the book "Modern Nutritional Diseases" by Alice and Fred Ottoboni.

  3. Julian says:

    I just bought extra virgin coconut oil at walmart

  4. ELLEN says:

    lmao!!!!!

  5. GAYLENE says:

    HOW COULD I REACH THESE AUTISM EXPERTS THAT USE COCONUT OIL FOR AUTISTIC CHILDREN. HOW LONG HAVE YOU USED IT & COULD YOU GIVE MORE DETAILS OF THE BENEFITS YOUR SON HAS EXPERIENCED? MY GRANDSON IN 4 & RECENTLY DIAGNOSED AUTISTIC.

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