What’s the Deal about Coconut Oil?

Is coconut oil healthy or not?

It’s no wonder if you are confused. I have been asked frequently about the recent controversy which began with a viral USA Today headline, which boldly stated that coconut oil isn’t healthy and it’s never been healthy. 

That announcement was the follow-on to an article published by the American Heart Association (AHA) advising people to replace saturated fats, as in coconut oil, with omega-6 polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils.

I have been a big fan of all things coconut for several years now – the meat, the water (straight from the fruit), the oil, and all the amazing benefits of this nut.  Click here to read about some of those impressive benefits. My point here is that I was not going to take this recent pronouncement without some serious questioning about it.

Is Coconut Oil Healthy or Not?

Coconut sometimes stands unfairly judged because of its high saturated fat content, which seems, in this recent discussion, is at the heart of the issue of the debate. The saturated fat in coconut oil comes in the form of healthy, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) or medium-chain fats. Our bodies metabolize (or burn) MCTs more like carbs, for energy, instead of storing them as fat. Their calories, then, are converted to energy for immediate use by the body.

Additionally, coconut oil is made up of lauric, capric, and caprylic acids, great food for human brains. Incidentally, the only other good source of lauric acid, which is often used in remedying digestive issues, is breast milk. It is 24% saturated fat.) Also, and this is one of the reasons I’m so fond of it, coconut oil has anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-fungal properties. Not all saturated fats are created equal, and coconut oil offers substantial health benefits.

What about the Cholesterol Issue?

Coconut oil, like any saturated fat, can increase total cholesterol.  This is not news. The latest news about total cholesterol is that it is not the heart attack or stroke predictor that it was once believed to be. More and more clinical evidence shows that lowering saturated fat and cholesterol do not decrease heart attacks.

Then What’s the Problem?

Refined carbs, such as white bread, white rice, or other foods made with white flour quickly turn to sugar in the blood.  Eating them with saturated fat increases inflammation. Eating more vegetables with saturated fats and passing on the refined carbohydrates is a healthy way to eat. No one is recommending a jar of coconut oil a day, for sure, but it can be eaten fairly freely without problems, allowing for bio-individuality – all bodies are different.

And the Problem, Again?

The AHA recommends vegetable oils. Most vegetable oils are industrially processed, produced with high heat and chemicals. These are not healthy options at all. Vegetable oils are usually genetically modified (GMO) and made with non-organic soybeans, corn, and canola. The AHA also recommended more omega 6 fats. That advice is problematic because many, many Americans already consume too many omega-6 fats because of diets high in processed and fast foods. An imbalance between omega-6s and omega-3s creates inflammation, plain and simple, which is at the heart of all disease.

And What’s My Conclusion?

Saturated fats, like coconut oil, are not all bad.  The fats to avoid are trans fats, fried fats, and industrially produced, poor quality vegetable oil, as in cooking oil and in processed and refined foods.

I will definitely keep coconut oil on my shelf, use it frequently, and recommend it to others. It can be a very healthy source of fat in an otherwise healthy diet, because of its medium chain fat content. It’s best to buy unrefined, cold-pressed, extra virgin coconut oil. This recommendation fits in nicely with my bottom-line belief about eating for health, and that is that we do best on a wide variety of foods, mostly plants, in as close to their natural state as possible.

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