Coconut Oil Is Not Health Food

Do you love coconut oil? Well, beware. This alleged "superfood" may not be so beneficial to your health after all. In fact, many supposed superfoods may not be as miraculous as you think.

Professor at Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health, Karin Michels, was so concerned that she recorded a nearly one-hour conference on YouTube about the dangers of coconut oil.

In the video, titled, "Coconut oil and other nutritional errors," Michels clearly declares that coconut oil is not really healthy at all, and I add that no scientific study has proven its supposed beneficial effects on the health of individuals. Her statements are in accordance with the updated guidelines of the American Heart Association (AHA).

In mid-2017, the AHA revised its stance on coconut oil and advised consumers to stay away.  


Harvard and AHA Pan Coconut Oil

The AHA reviewed data on saturated fats in research that measured LDL LDL (low density, "bad") cholesterol. In seven of seven controlled trials, coconut oil raised LDL. Researchers did not see any difference between coconut oil and other oils high in saturated fats that we have been taught to shun, such as butter, cow fat and palm oil. In fact, coconut oil seems to be especially bad because 82% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated.  Saturated fat levels are much lower in other fats and oils used for cooking, including (63%), cow fat (50%), and lard (39%).

Any animal-derived product will pose a health issue. About 30-40% of the total fat in animal tissue is saturated. But vegetable oils are not necessarily better. Palmitic and stearic acid are universally found in natural fats including vegetable oils, while lauric acid is especially abundant in coconut oil and palm oil.


Eat Your Veggies, But Watch the Oils

Observational studies have shown that a diet with more than 15% of daily energy intake coming from saturated fatty acids is directly associated with an increase in blood cholesterol levels and mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Different saturated fatty acids have different numbers of carbons associated with them, which in turn, affects how they impact your health.  Those with 12-16 carbons tend to increase plasma levels of total cholesterol, and LDL. Coconut oil belongs in this group with its 12 carbon atoms. But stearic acid, which abounds in meat and dairy products has 18 carbon atoms and does not appear to increase cholesterol or LDL. In fact, the role of dairy products in cardiovascular disease and LDL is still under debate.  Full-fat milk and cheese were once maligned, now some think they are not bad for us. Members of the  Masai tribe in Africa have an extremely high level of dairy in their diet and very low serum cholesterol or LDL. Other research has found the same pattern.

Saturated fatty acids differ in potency as well. Myristic acid (14 carbons) appears to cause the strongest response, followed by lauric acid (abundant in coconut oil) and palmitic acid (16 carbons).

While the AHA did not say that the coconut is one of the worst foods in the world, Michels did.

She stated that "coconut oil is pure poison…it is one of the worst foods you can eat."


Who Knew Lard Was Better?

This revelation is worrisome when you consider that millions of us have been told that using coconut oil will help alleviate a great variety of diseases and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

It may be an even greater surprise that lard is healthier than coconut oil. It has less saturated fatty acids.

New guidelines outlined in the American Heart Association (AHA) report "The Skinny on Fats" advises consumers to limit the consumption of saturated and trans fats. The researchers recommend opting for the natural form of non-hydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower or olive oil. As you may notice, coconut oil is not included in the list of healthiest fats.

AHA recommends those people who need to lower their cholesterol levels, reduce their intake of saturated fats to no more than 5% of total daily calories. For someone who eats 2,000 calories a day, this represents approximately 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat.

As with most things, moderation matters. You can certainly enjoy the occasional treat like a spicy rogan josh or other curry. But, putting it in your daily coffee and pouring it over popcorn probably exceeds good practice.    Coconut oil may not be a poison; however, its exaggerated use can cause severe problems in the health of the individual.

Photo credit: Alexander Mills

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