Coconut oil is a very controversial product, and the latest recommendations of the American Association of Cardiology have caused even more controversy. There’s still one major question: Is it extremely beneficial or dangerously harmful?
Even scientists have failed to reach a consensus, not to mention the broader public. We’ll take a look at 21 arguments, alternating “for” and “against”. But first, the most important thing to note: eating large portions of coconut oil could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, although the results of studies related to this vary.
1. For: Cultures in which coconut oil is eaten regularly have fewer heart problems
Coconuts are not only the food choice of Robinson in the famous movie, but also a staple food for the inhabitants of islands, for example, in the Pacific Ocean. The residents of Tokelau receive around 63 percent of their daily calorie intake from coconuts, and ECG scans typically don’t reveal any heart problems stemming from this. Maybe the enemy isn’t fat but carbohydrates? The people of Kitava (who are also very fond of coconuts) take in up to 70 percent of their calories from carbohydrates, including a lot of fruit sugars and starches. However, overall they have a low level of insulin and virtually no heart disease.
So, is it a question of genetics? Also no. A study showed that those who left Tokelau, adopted a city diet and lowered their intake of natural saturated fats began to damage their health.
2. Against: Similar cultures don’t intake recycled coconut oil
Before processed treats were made available to them, the islanders were eating whole coconuts, not coconut oil products that had been refined at factories. They were also were eating a lot of fruit and fish. As soon as they started to add saturated fats to their diet (e.g. processed foods made from wheat, corn, soybeans etc.) they began to harm their health.
3. For: In several studies the health state of animals improved after adding processed coconut oil to their diet
It’s difficult to conduct strictly monitored laboratory research among people, but experiments on mice showed the following: Recycled oil benefited heart arteries more than processed olive oil. However, exactly the same research showed the inverse result when fresh coconut was compared with fresh olives.
4. Against: People are not laboratory mice
On the one hand, mice are omnivorous animals like us, but on the other, countless studies have shown huge differences between us and mice. For instance, our body cannot create vitamin C itself, however mice (as well as many other animals) can. The heart of a mouse reacts in quite a different way to many of our medicines. As a result, experiments do not always guarantee that you’ll see identical results in humans as in mice.
5. Against: Purified oils are sometimes harmful to the heart
Purified coconut oil is devoid of all the beneficial substances that remain in the coconut meat, e.g. polyphenols, fiber and vitamin E. There haven’t been any comparative experiments carried out with coconuts, although we can draw an analogy with butter. Oil has a more harmful effect on our LDL levels than fatty cream (which is also very harmful). The key to this is that a natural membrane covers milk fat in cream until it’s processed into butter. The processing of coconut has a similar effect — oil has even more physiological effects, and can potentially lead to a deterioration in cardiac health.
6. For: It contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which can help with weight loss
MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) are a consequence of the elevated processing of coconut and palm oil. Recycled food is harmful, right? No, oil with MCT is very beneficial and can even help you to lose weight. However, understand it correctly: If you eat too much, then you’ll put on weight (there are a lot of calories in coconut oil), but studies shows that by replacing vegetable oil with MCT we can consume 500 fewer calories per day (although results are not entirely conclusive).
7. Against: Coconut oil won’t help you lose weight like MCT
Alas, newer studies (April 2017) indicate that eating coconut oil will cause you to feel hungrier and less full (compared with eating olive oil).
8. Against: Thanks to clever marketing, the merits of MCT are fallaciously attributed to coconut oil
Internet experts will say things like: “Coconut oil contains nutritious medium-chain triglycerides, so it can help you lose weight, and it treats epilepsy and diabetes!”
However, unlike MCT oil, the benefits of which have been proven, almost half of the fat in coconut oil comes from lauric acid. This is more like a long-chain triglyceride. Additionally, while around 95 percent of MCT is used by the body as energy, barely 25 percent of lauric acid does the same thing. Several fatty acids are combined into triglycerides, which can be medium chain as well as long chain. Therefore, just 4 percent of coconut oil triglycerides are considered medium chain, which can actually lead to cholesterol problems.
9. For: MCT and, possibly, coconut oil can help with epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease
The brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease absorbs glucose poorly — it can only absorb ketones. You can get them in two ways: a low-carbohydrate diet (not the best choice for Alzheimer’s) or food that stimulates the production of ketones. For instance, oil with MCT. But generally speaking, what is the effect from coconut? The effect is worse than in pure MCT, but there are some hypotheses that the manufactured goods from coconut with insignificant processions can alleviate Alzheimer’s and epilepsy symptoms.
10. Against: The medical and nutrition communities are opposed to it
Advice from the American Heart Association, issued on June 15, 2017, contained just a small section devoted to coconut oil. However, it was enough to upset many proponents of a healthy diet. It’s quite bizarre that extracted coconut oil isn’t an ancient natural product, rather it’s a modern invention. These two key points prove it: A recent poll showed that about 72 percent of people regard coconut oil as an “important product” (but barely 37 percent of dieticians) since coconut oil can help to augment the level of LDL (in cardiovascular illness). The AHA claimed that coconut oil doesn’t have any beneficial effects and advised against using it.
11. For: Doctors and nutritionists might be mistaken
Many doctors and nutritionists have failed to recognize their misconceptions about cholesterol for several decades. Since the 1960s and up until 2015 it was believed to be a “harmful” substance that can block major arteries.
Clinical studies show that officially recommended diet plans are often poor in practice. It’s astonishing that, in order to justify their failures, several authors have offered to “decrease the amount of cholesterol and fat” even further! Such dodgy science! Fresh studies, which examined the effects of red meat and saturated fats, have still failed to identify a major relationship with heart disease.
12. For: Coconut oil boosts your HDL levels
Seven studies evaluated the effect of coconut oil (loaded with saturated fats) on cholesterol and five recorded an increase in HDL. This seems to be a good sign, as HDL it is “beneficial cholesterol” that can help protect the heart.
13. Against: An increase in HDL may not have such positive effects
A couple of studies that compared coconut and butter also found the same increase in HDL. Although butter might not be the ultimate personification of evil, it doesn’t add much health to the heart (as olives do, for example).
GenerallyIn general, the idea of “beneficial” HDL and “harmful” LDL is a huge oversimplification. Although a lower level of HDL is mostly related to heart disease, attempts to increase this level with preparations haven’t resulted in any positive increases in HDL cholesterol. Moreover, they didn’t show any improvement to overall health, and in certain cases the fatality rate increased.
For certain genetic mutations, the level of HDL cholesterol was too high and thus harmful! Other factors are also important: the oxidation of fats, as well as irritation to and compaction of the arteries.
14. Against: It destructively affects the level of LDL
For a number of Many people believe that coconut (cream and other saturated oil) can increase the level of larger (beneficial) LDL, rather than the small and dense kind, resulting in blockage to the arteries.
But here is what science says: With “small and dense” LDL — about 24 nanometers in diameter — and “large and heavy” LDL — about 27 nanometers — the variation is just a couple of nanometers. The overall sum of lipoproteins contributes to the negative effects more than particle size. In fact, the total size is practically irrelevant (when other parameters are controlled).
Let’s return to the coconut. The good news is that there’s less triglyceride in coconut oil than in cream and beef. Nevertheless, some fatty acids are associated with the growth of larger LDL and the reduction of small and dense LDL. Coconut oil has a mixture of the two, and not all are beneficial for health.
15. For: It’s much better for cooking
The coconut has supplementary saturated fats (observed in all oils). When heated, vegetable oils tend to oxidize or polymerize, but coconut oil stays pure for longer.
16. Against: It starts to smoke sooner
Untreated palm oil begins to smoke at 235 degrees Celsius, while untreated coconut oil starts at 177 degrees. This smoke isn’t just a visual annoyance; the formation of carcinogens in the air is also likely. Processed coconut begins to smoke at around 204 degrees Celsius.
17. For: Coconut oil doesn’t turn rancid so quickly
The more polyunsaturated fatty acids an oil contains, the easier it will be to go bad during cooking or when it’s inside our body. For example, a 1960s study found that replacing animal oils with corn oil increased the mortality rate of heart attacks. Coconut contains more saturated fats, and so it tends to preserve for longer.
18. For: Coconut oil has an antibacterial effect
Even though, as stated previously, lauric acid is not as beneficial as MCT, it does have an antimicrobial characteristic.
This is why coconuts are often used in folk medicine. For example, using it as a mouthwash can prevent damage to your teeth. Coconut oil is also helpful for certain digestive disorders, but so far studies have only been carried out only on animals.
19. For: Coconut oil is important for your skin and hair
In “coconut countries”, women often rub the oil into their hair. It can help to prevent hair damage due to its unique combination of short and saturated molecular chains. Also, coconut oil can treat dryness and peeling of the skin, and is actually more effective than olive oil for atopic dermatitis.
20. Against: Can it cause diarrhea? Does it aggravate immunity problems?
While Although scientists have not yet answered these questions, their research continues. Some people may experience digestive problems and/or diarrhea after consuming large portions of coconut oil. Taking into consideration its antibacterial properties, note that even good substances can have negative side effects. One study on animals suggests that lauric acid can aggravate autoimmune disorders.
The potentially beneficial properties for the immune system of fatty acids in coconut oil have been poorly studied. That’s why we recommend eating it in moderation. A tablespoon per day won’t hurt, but higher doses (especially if you already have existing immunity problems) can be dangerous.
21. Against: It’s expensive
Although Even though coconut oil isn’t the most beneficial oil out there, it continues to be one of the most expensive. If you like the taste, or if the current research has convinced you that it will help you, include it moderately in your diet. You should analyze all of the available data, make an informed choice, and don’t be fooled by false advertising.