Blog Post

Coconut Oil: Much Ado About Nothing

coconutJS asks: “I am wondering if coconut oil can be New Age? It's so much advertised by media. Even olive oil has a lot of benefits, but it does not get so much attention nowadays as coconut oil.”

That's because coconut oil is the new darling of the health food community (which attracts many New Agers). It is touted as being good for the treatment of everything from Alzheimer’s to athlete’s foot.

Unfortunately, none of this is true.

In this report by Harriet Hall, M.D. for the Science Based Medicine blog, we discover that coconut oil has come a long way since the 1980’s when it was condemned for its high saturated fat content – which is still true, by the way.

What changed and made it more acceptable are advances in nutrition science which found trans fats to be worse than saturated fats (although saturated fats are still bad).

Much of the research done on coconut oil concerns the hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated form. Partial hydrogenation is what creates trans fat and destroys many of the good essential fatty acids and antioxidants found in virgin coconut oil.

Coconut oil also contains lauric acid which raises both HDL and LDL (good and bad) cholesterol levels. The virgin variety contains triglycerides that are not as risky.

Proponents claim lauric acid is a “wonder substance” with possibly antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiviral properties that can do everything from combat HIV to speed up the metabolism. This is typical of the hype surrounding coconut oil which is coming mostly from very unreliable sources such as Joe Mercola and Dr. Oz.

“There are a lot of claims that coconut oil may have health benefits, but there is no concrete scientific data yet to support this,” said Dr. Daniel Hwang, a research molecular biologist specializing in lauric acid at the Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis.

He’s not alone. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, also say consumers should think twice before jumping on the coconut oil bandwagon.

“While coconut oil didn’t deserve its bad reputation, it also doesn’t deserve its new stardom as a health food,” the researchers write. “Don’t buy the hype that it will keep you healthy and slim or that it can treat or prevent chronic diseases. It’s fine to cook with it if you like it, especially as a replacement for butter or lard, though we recommend olive, canola, and other nontropical oils for regular use. It’s also okay to buy foods that contain coconut oil, but don’t think that makes them healthy choices. Many are high-calorie snack foods like candies.”

Hall takes it a step further and says, “There is no justification for adding it to the diet on top of the usual consumption of other fats. There is no credible evidence to support any of the many health benefits claimed for using it as a supplement.”

The bottom line is that coconut oil is not New Age  - and it's not a "superfood" either. It is nothing more or less than what it's always been - just plain old coconut oil.