Eloise Palmateer, RDN, LD
Coconut Oil - Clearing up the Confusion
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
One day you hear it's a cure-all, magical, healing food, the next day you hear it might just kill you. What's the deal with coconut oil?
One day we're told coconut oil is evil - that it clogs your arteries, makes you fat, and leads you down the path to heart disease. The next day we're told it's full of healthy fat and helps you lose weight. Well, whether coconut oil truly delivers on it's health-promoting promises doled out by the media, or it's actually a demon-in-disguise, once again depends on who you ask. Personally, I am a fan of coconut oil. In healthy, moderate amounts, it imparts many great benefits. Read on to learn about the benefits of coconut oil, and why the people who call it evil need to tone it down and consider checking their sources.
The Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a potent source of MCTs (medium-chain triglyceride). Unlike most fatty acids, MCTs are transported through the portal vein directly to the liver where they are quickly broken down and absorbed, making them an almost immediate source of energy. MCTs are also touted for boosting metabolism and enhancing the body's natural ketone production (1).
Caprylic acid, a specific MCT, has been found in many studies to impart an anti-microbial influence on the body. It kills off fungus like candida, helping to prevent yeast overgrowth. When yeast grows to high levels in the body, it can lead to problems like vaginal yeast infections, skin rashes, gut dysbiosis, and gastrointestinal upset. Another MCT found in coconut oil, lauric acid, has been found to have potent antiviral properties, which means it helps defend us against common colds, the flu, herpes, and other viral-based ailments (2). Coconut oil is the richest food source of lauric acid that we know of.
Another benefit of coconut oil is its high smoke point, which makes it a great fat to cook with. Many fats are prone to oxidation, which means exposure to light and heat can easily cause them to oxidize and become rancid. Consuming oxidized fats poses a great risk to our health. But coconut oil, on the other hand, tends to be very resilient to light and heat.
A few other benefits of coconut oil are that it has been found in studies to raise levels of HDL, a healthy type of cholesterol, and it can be used for skincare in addition to eating it. So, with all of that said, why do people swear that it's harmful to our health?
The "Dark Side" of Coconut Oil
In June of 2017, the American Heart Association published a presidential advisory (3) reenforcing their stance on coconut oil - that it is practically a poison, a heart attack encased in a furry brown shell. Coconut oil is primarily made up of saturated fat - about 90% of it (4), which is why the AHA advises Americans to stay away from it. They cited four studies to back up their stance: a study from 1968, one from 1969, one from 1970, and from 1978. ...Really? Despite the fact they issued this report like it was new and exciting news, they weren't able to find any new and advanced research to support their claims that saturated fat is harmful. This is how it always seems to go when someone tries to make a case against saturated fat - they use old, antiquated, cherry-picked studies, or correlational research, food frequency questionnaires, or epidemiological data - none of which can prove causation.
It's true that certain types of saturated fat can raise your LDL, which is known as "bad cholesterol." However, more recent and well-designed research studies suggest that not all LDL cholesterol is created equal. LDL cholesterol comes in the form of large, fluffy, buoyant particles, and in small, dense particles. While the small, dense type of LDL tends to stick to our blood vessel walls and cause plaque accumulation contributing to heart disease, the large fluffy kind are now thought to be relatively benign (5).
The Bottom Line
Until someone is able to show me a comprehensive report of WELL DESIGNED, reliable studies proving that coconut oil is harmful to our health, I will continue to use it for cooking, blend a tsp. of it into my morning coffee, use it as a makeup remover and moisturizer, and I encourage you to do the same.
1. The Wahls Protocol by Dr. Terry Wahls