Coconut Oil—Helpful or Harmful?
June 14, 2019 Written by: Costectomy
To understand this, we need to know what makes an edible oil healthy or harmful. It’s common knowledge that oils contain fats, but to be more precise, these are fatty acids and they are of two types: saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. As a general rule, saturated fatty acids are bad for health and unsaturated fatty acids are good for health. With this in mind, consider the following: over 90% of the fats in coconut oil are composed of saturated fatty acids.Processed coconut oil has even more saturated fats.
If we were simply going off of fat content and type, the answer would be easy: coconut oil technically isn’t healthy. But coconut oil contains vitamins and antioxidants and contributes to positive health effects. No wonder it’s being promoted as a cure-all for a variety of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, bone weakness, and even aging. However, these claims are not backed by the necessary scientific evidence. In fact, there is a lack of research on the long-term health effects of coconut oil on the body.
On the other hand, what has been scientifically proven and is beyond doubt is the ability of coconut oil to raise blood LDL levels. LDL is the bad cholesterol, as opposed to HDL, which is good cholesterol. An increase in LDL levels causes stiffening of the arteries, a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis in turn leads to a host of other very serious medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney failure. At its worst, it can result in a heart attack or stroke.
When you look at the alternatives, such as olive oil or vegetable oils, all have much less or negligible saturated fats and plenty of unsaturated fatty acids – which don’t harm your health. Furthermore, these oils have vitamins and antioxidants too. To be safe, don’t completely replace these oils with coconut oil for regular cooking purposes. Having said that, occasional use of coconut oil for seasoning and flavor is perfectly fine. Moderation is key!
- Khaw KT, Sharp SJ, Finikarides L, et al. Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women. BMJ Open. 2018;8(3):e020167. Published 2018 Mar 6. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020167
- Eyres L, Eyres MF, Chisholm A, Brown RC. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutr Rev. 2016;74(4):267–280. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuw002
- Wallace TC. Health Effects of Coconut Oil-A Narrative Review of Current Evidence. J Am Coll Nutr. 2019 Feb;38(2):97-107. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2018.1497562