Because it’s nearly 90% saturated fat, you should limit your intake of coconut oil to very small amounts — or avoid it altogether. Why? Because it increases the risk of heart disease.
That’s not my advice. That’s the advice given by prestigious organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the US Department of Agriculture and the World Health Organization.
And yet the public doesn’t seem to be taking much notice of these esteemed bodies, because demand for coconut oil has surged in recent years.
Are we right to ignore advice from big-name institutions or are we doing ourselves great harm?
AMA Warns Against It
The American Medical Association’s views on saturated fat and coconut oil are very clear:
“…randomized controlled trials that lowered intake of dietary saturated fat and replaced it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced CVD [cardiovascular disease] by ≈30%, similar to the reduction achieved by statin treatment.
“Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.”
To state it has no offsetting favorable effects is extraordinary, when you consider that coconut oil is known to raise HDL “good” cholesterol and has a number of other attributes.
May Prevent Heart Disease
A 2014 review article in Postgraduate Medicine highlighted the benefits of virgin coconut oil in animal and human trials.
It pointed out that virgin coconut oil contains an abundance of medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs — caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid) as well as unsaturated fats.
MCTs help reduce body fat and cardiovascular risk. Phenolic compounds in virgin coconut oil act as antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory effects, and help prevent abnormal blood clots. All factors that help prevent heart disease.
The researchers conclude: “Virgin coconut oil may have a role to play in reducing the risk of CVD.”
The Real Problem? Carbs
Professor Ronald Krause, MD, spends his professional life studying the link between saturated fat and heart disease. In the early days he accepted the conventional wisdom and put his heart patients on low fat diets. But their cholesterol profiles either didn’t improve or actually got worse when they avoided fats.
After years of research he was able to show this occurred because the patients were replacing fats mainly with refined carbohydrates. The refined carbs increase small particle LDL cholesterol, a very damaging form of the lipid.
In 2010 he pulled together findings from as many high-quality studies as he could find. They showed no association between saturated fats and overall heart disease risk.
Coconut Oil Raises “Good” HDL Cholesterol By 15%
In the UK, doctor, author and science journalist Michael Mosley was initially skeptical about the benefits of coconut oil, calling it “the latest foolish food hype.”
Then he learned about populations such as the Tokelauans in the South Pacific Ocean, who eat diets high in coconut but enjoy very low rates of heart disease. The news spurred him to organize a trial with researchers from Cambridge University.
94 participants aged 50 – 75 with no history of heart disease were divided into three groups. Every day for four weeks, the first group ate three tablespoons of virgin coconut oil, the second consumed the same amount of olive oil, while the third ingested the same quantity of unsalted butter.
The findings were that the butter eaters saw a 10% rise in LDL and a 5% rise in HDL. The olive oil group saw a non-significant fall in LDL and a 5% rise in HDL.
But what surprised Dr. Mosely and the researchers were the results they saw in the coconut group: no elevation in LDL and a massive 15% rise in HDL.
Lead researcher Professor Kay-Tee Khaw couldn’t explain the result but said, “…it’s too simplistic to think that all saturated fats are bad – we need to look at their composition, how they’re manufactured and the context in which they’re eaten.”
Best Oils To Cook With
Martin Grootveld, a professor of bio-analytical chemistry and chemical pathology at De Montfort University, does not recommend sunflower or corn oil for cooking at high temperatures because – being the richest in polyunsaturated fats – they generate massive amounts of aldehydes – chemicals linked to heart disease and cancer.
He suggests cooking with oils such as olive oil and coconut oil that are more stable when heated and produce fewer aldehydes.
No wonder well-informed people are ignoring medical and health authorities.