In recent years, it seems society’s gone crazy for coconut oil. You may have noticed everyone from celebrity doctors to your Facebook friends touting it as a life-changing superfood. Food marketers highlight this ingredient on packaging. Consumers purchase it by the jar for use as cooking oil, to consume raw and even to apply topically. Some even use it in oil pulling to clean their mouth and teeth.
Health benefits often associated with coconut oil, which is extracted from coconut meat, include weight loss, lower cholesterol, improved brain function, improved glucose tolerance, and clearer skin. Is what they say true? Is coconut oil healthy?
A lot of experts say more research is in order. While studies link coconut oil to an array of positive health outcomes, there is not yet enough evidence to substantiate the bulk of claims. This is particularly true with coconut oil and heart health.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat—about 90 percent of natural coconut oil is saturated fat.1 As explained in The Huffington Post, the kind of saturated fat in coconut oil makes a difference; about half is lauric acid, which can improve HDL—aka “good”—cholesterol. On the other hand, it may still be harmful to longterm heart health.
The American Heart Association advises limiting saturated fat consumption to less than 7 percent of total daily calories, which may be done by limiting consumption of foods containing tropical oils such as coconut oil.2
A nutritional analysis by Cleveland Clinic’s Heart & Vascular team determined olive oil to be heart-healthier due to its “rock-solid” evidence of its heart benefits, higher percentages of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and lower percentage of saturated fat—the results are published in an infographic at health.clevelandclinic.org.
Bottom line: Coconut oil is not a miracle cure. The consensus seems to be that, in small amounts, it may be included as part of a healthy diet. If you like it, go ahead and use it in moderation. Nutrition experts recommend virgin coconut oil.3 Though virgin coconut oil is technically refined, it is less refined than others and is said to retain more antioxidants as a result.4
If you have questions about coconut oil and your diet, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist.
1Melnick, Meredith. “Is Coconut Oil Really All It’s Cracked Up to Be?” The Huffington Post. April 22, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/coconut-oil-healthy_n_5167057.html
2American Heart Association. “Tropical Oils.” N.D. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/FatsAndOils/Fats101/Tropical-Oils_UCM_306031_Article.jsp
3Ware, Megan, RDN, LD. “What are the Health Benefits of Coconut Oil?” Medical News Today. Last updated Oct. 1, 2014. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/282857.php
4Shilhavy, Brian. “What Type of Coconut Oil is Best? How to Choose a Coconut Oil.” March 1, 2014. http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/what-type-of-coconut-oil-is-best-how-to-choose-a-coconut-oil/.
Heart & Vascular Team. “Olive Oil vs. Coconut Oil: Which is Heart-Healthier [Infographic].” Cleveland Clinic. Oct. 30, 2013. http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/10/olive-oil-vs-coconut-oil-which-is-heart-healthier/
International Food Information Council Foundation. “Fact Sheet: Coconut Oil and Health.” http://www.foodinsight.org/sites/default/files/Coconut%20Oil%20Factsheet%202014.pdf
Melnick, Meredith. “Is Coconut Oil Really All It’s Cracked Up to Be?” The Huffington Post. April 22, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/coconut-oil-healthy_n_5167057.html