Is Coconut Oil A Miracle Supplement Or An Unhealthy Saturated Fat?

Dr. Mermet Oz claims that coconut oil has superpowers.  It can help you lose weight, treat skin conditions and ulcers, and boost your metabolism. If Dr. Oz says coconut oil has superpowers, it must have superpowers, right?  Keep in mind that Dr. Oz is also one of the strongest supporters for the 3-Day Detox Cleanse which many registered dieticians think is a bunch of boloney.

If you’ve decided to use coconut oil to cook with, mix in your coffee or use as a nutritional supplement, you should proceed with caution.  Most of the research suggests that not enough data has been gathered on the health benefits of taking coconut oil internally to say that it is safe to consume in quantity.  Putting in on your skin and hair might be an altogether different story however.

Coconut oil research leaves us with unanswered questions.

Coconut oil research leaves us with unanswered questions.

Good Fat, Bad Fat or Both?

Pure virgin coconut oil contains 92% saturated fat which is the highest amount of saturated fat of any fat. Saturated fats are typically found in animal products and are easily recognizable because they become solid at room temperature.  Tropical fats found in palm, palm kernel and coconut oils are saturated fats that can be solid, semi-solid, or liquid at room temperature.  Animal fats contain cholesterol.  Tropical fats do not.

Consumption of saturated fats is believed to play a major role in the development of cardiovascular disease.  Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises our LDL (bad blood cholesterol) which is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies that have examined coconut oil and the role it plays on blood cholesterol levels show that it improves the ratio of HDL (good) cholesterol to LDL (bad) cholesterol, but overall, raises LDL levels.

According to Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, “any food that increases LDL cholesterol should be limited because LDL cholesterol is the main treatment target for heart disease.”

But David L. Katz, M.D., director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center says that coconut oil contains lauric acid and stearic acid and these behave differently on the body.  He says that early research suggests they don’t raise the risk for heart disease.

Lauric and stearic acids are fatty acids that have been found to increase total cholesterol, but most of the increase is due to an increase in HDL. In fact, lauric acid has a more favorable effect on HDL than any other fatty acid.  So the presence of it, along with stearic acid, may keep coconut oil from being in the ‘bad fat’ category with the other saturated fats.

Harvard Health gives coconut oil kudos because it is a plant-based oil that contains antioxidants and other properties. A Harvard Health publication states that “ the overall effects [of coconut oil] on health can’t be predicted just by the changes in LDL and HDL”.

Recommended Daily Requirements

Even though there are conflicting opinions about coconut oil, it’s always wise to practice moderation.

The American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats – whether animal or plant based – should not be more than seven per cent of your daily calories.  For a person that consumes 2,000 calories a day, 7% is about 16 grams which amounts to 140 calories.  People that are trying to lose weight or lower their LDL should consume even less.

Other Benefits of Coconut Oil Are Questionable

Dr. Oz claims that coconut oil will help you lose weight because it improves the body’s ability to use insulin, boosts thyroid function and increases digestion so that fat-soluble vitamins are more easily absorbed.  To date there is no evidence that proves any of these statements are true, although there are plenty of web sites that promote the use of coconut oil and make a variety of claims about its medicinal qualities.

Like all fats, coconut oil is dense in calories and sparse in nutritional value so whether or not it can boost metabolism, give you more energy, or empty the dishwasher for you, limiting how much of the high-calorie oil you consume is key to maintaining a healthy weight.

Dr. Katz, in an article he wrote for Oprah.com said, “I have yet to see any convincing evidence that coconut oil can decrease your heart disease risk (or that it can boost your immune system or help you lose weight –two other claims).  Ongoing research may prove otherwise, but until the results are in, don’t make it a point to consume coconut oil.  And I wouldn’t substitute it for oils we know are beneficial, such as olive oil and canola.”

I think that’s good advice!

You might also like:  The Battle of the Oils: Can Olive Beat Canola? 

Have you tried coconut oil?

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Comments

  1. Actually, saturated fat has little effect on cholesterol levels compared to other elements in the food(1). And the evidence linking saturated fat to clogged arteries is, at best, tenuous(2). The real culprit appears to be excessive intake of omega-6 industrial seed oils(3,4,5).

    References and notes
    1. A diet rich in foods with proven heart-healthy benefits is significantly better than a diet low in saturated fat for reducing LDL-cholesterol levels in patients with hyperlipidemia, according to the results of a new study.
    2.
    3.
    4.
    5. http://evilcyber.com/nutrition/disrobing-dogma-polyunsaturated-fat-and-health/

    • Hi David – I certainly agree with you that other factors effect LDL besides saturated fat. However, accordingly to the American Heart Association, limiting saturated fats is still considered to play an important role in the prevention heart disease. There are a number of studies, such as the ones that you listed, that recommend limiting consumption of other fats as well. The bottom line is, everything they know now will be up for re-evaluation at some point. That’s why the conclusion of my article recommends taking a conservation approach to this so-called miracle oil :-).
      Thanks so much for you comment. You have a wonder web site. I’m looking forward to browsing!

  2. I agree there is still research to be done on coconut oil. I haven’t looked so much into the heart stuff myself however with the research so far we are definitely a convincing case for coconut oil to help alzheimers for instance. There has also been case studies on coconut oil supporting weight loss or waist reduction.

    My cousin recently started taking 1 tbs of coconut oil every day for 5 months since her Hep C was getting to its worst in over 10 years. With no other changes in her diet or medication, at the end of the 5 months the doctors couldn’t find a trace of the Hep C, and this has lasted now for just over 6 months. Fingers crossed.

    I think like everything, moderation is good. And don’t expect to have the same results as the next person.

    • That is great news for your cousin. Good luck to her! I absolutely agree that there are natural remedies that can help people beyond what pharmaceuticals can. I think that some of the hype over products – such as coconut oil – does more harm than good. People that over-sell the products (like Dr. Oz) make them look like gimmicks. Coconut oil’s not a cure-all but can certainly help some people with some issues. Thanks for you comment. You have a nice web site!

  3. “Most of the research suggests that not enough data has been gathered on the health benefits of taking coconut oil internally to say that it is safe to consume in quantity.”

    But coconut oil is a traditional fat that has been used for centuries without ill effect. What changed all that?

    There are three food elements that Kitavans don’t have access to: refined grains, sugars, and omega-6 industrial seed oils. Note: while wheat, and sugar are finally getting some attention, omega-6s are still largely immune to scientific scrutiny.

    The problem with saturated fat research is that negative findings are widely publicized so everyone gets the impression that saturated fats are extremely problematic for health. But that view has always been controversial(1). So the selection of research to be evaluated and the interpretation of that research proceeds accordingly(2). Meanwhile, researchers continue to study the studies to see if they really indicate that saturated fats constitute a health hazard(3). And some have examined the historical record to determine how the low-fat dogma came into existance(4).

    A recent development suggests that the anti-saturated fat campaign may be losing traction. A recent British Medical Journal article(5) that received widespread publicity(6) indicates that omega-6s, not saturated fats, are the problematic element in the food supply.

    Of course, the American Heart Association remains staunchly anti-saturated fat and pro-omega-6(7).

    References
    1.
    2. http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007%2811%2900314-5/abstract
    3. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/535.full
    4. http://jhmas.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/2/139.full
    5. http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e8707
    6. http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2013/02/11/f-crowe-omega-6.html
    7.