Is Coconut Oil Really Unhealthy?
I’m sure that many of you have heard about the American Heart Association’s (AHA) latest statement on saturated fats and are wondering if it means you should throw out your coconut oil and whether you should be concerned about your health after having eaten it.
Since that statement was issued, I’ve been down the coconut oil rabbit hole researching what the AHA had to say. The problem with working in the nutrition and health field is that our understanding of those topics is constantly changing so inevitably what I advise my clients will change as well. Does that make nutrition advice any less valuable? No. It just means that we are getting better at science. So, totally open to the fact that I may need to adjust my dietary advice, I ventured down the slippery slope of coconut oil research (see what I did there?).
If you’re short on time, here’s the cliff notes version of my response:
Coconut oil is not going to kill you and you don’t need to throw it out.
If you’re still concerned, good! I want you to be critical and ask questions and come to your own conclusions. So here is my rationale:
1. First of all, the AHA’s statement was based on a review of existing data (they selected just 4 studies), some of which is very old (like 1960s old). More recent studies have shown that cholesterol levels alone are not a solid indicator of heart disease risk and a number have actually shown no correlation between saturated fat consumption, heart disease, and mortality. It also bears stating that this is not a new stance from the AHA but news outlets clamped onto the mention of coconut oil in a larger, more broad statement because of the oil’s recent popularity. This statement was about saturated fats, not just coconut oil.
2. The AHA’s statement completely overlooks the role of inflammation in heart disease. Inflammation helps plaque build up in our arteries, leading to heart disease. Coconut oil is anti-inflammatory and, thus, consuming it can reduce that arterial inflammation. Processed vegetable oils on the other hand, like canola oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, which the AHA espouses, are highly inflammatory.
3. As a saturated fat, coconut oil is more stable than unsaturated fats, like olive oil and sesame oil. This makes it a preferable oil for cooking at high heat and over longer periods. Because of the instability of unsaturated fats, they are more prone to oxidizing and become carcinogenic when heated to higher temperatures.
4. The human body needs fat for a number of vital processes. In fact, our brain is made up of 60% fat! Like everything else in life, the key to fats is moderation. Should you be eating coconut oil with every meal? No. But using a tablespoon or two to cook your dinner is perfectly safe.
5. Coconut oil is high in a compound called lauric acid, which is extremely beneficial to the strengthening of the human immune system. Breast milk is also high in lauric acid in order to help develop the immune systems of babies. Thus consuming coconut oil has beneficial effects on our immune system.
Essentially, there is a place in our diet for saturated fats in moderation and coconut oil is perfectly fine to consume. So, no, don’t throw out your coconut oil.