Recently, there have been some articles questioning the safety of consuming coconut oil. Often, I find these headlines are a bit sensationalized in an attempt to grab a few clicks. That’s why I like to dig a bit deeper and try to separate fact from fiction. I find the nutritional facts are almost way less dramatic than the headline implies.

The most recent article tells us that coconut oil isn’t healthy and never has been healthy. The main reason for this, according to the author, is because coconut oil is a saturated fat. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Coconut oil has become increasingly popular in large part because it contains Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). While it is a saturated fat, MCTs are processed quite differently than Long Chain Triglycerides found in butter and lard. Studies have shown MCTs and sources of MCTs like coconut oil, can be beneficial for a variety of health concerns including combatting dementia, enhancing the immune system and even increasing weight loss. 

So once again, we have a health catch-22. Some experts say coconut oil is healthy and others say it increases the risk of heart disease. Let’s looks at some facts: 

  • When we look at cultures with the greatest consumption of saturated fat from coconut oil, they have some of the lowest rates of heart disease.  
  • While some studies do show coconut oil increases cholesterol, there are also studies showing it has a favorable effect on cholesterol.  
  • Particle size matters. While headlines are consumed with “good and bad”, heart health experts now know cholesterol is much more complex. The particle size of your cholesterol goes a long way in determining your heart health. In other words, two people can have identical cholesterol scores and yet one can be far healthier than another due to the particle size of their cholesterol. Dr. Mark Hyman has an excellent article discussing coconut oil, cholesterol and particle size. I highly recommend reading it. In a nutshell, Dr. Hyman states, “While research shows coconut oil contains higher amounts of saturated fat and does increase total cholesterol, those amounts do not increase your heart attack or stroke risk.”
  • The studies that also compared butter and other animal fats showed these saturated fats had a greater negative impact on cholesterol than coconut oil did. This suggests the focus should probably be on reducing animal fats if someone is concerned about heart disease.
  • It is highly unlikely that one food is the source of all problems. When addressing your health, it’s important to look at your entire diet. Current research is shifting away from fats in general and towards the negative impact of refined sugars on our blood lipids and general health. Sugars fuel inflammation linked to many chronic disease from diabetes to heart disease. Often, those with heart disease have normal cholesterol but high levels of inflammation. 

With all that said, I have never been an advocate of over-consumption and going out of your way to add coconut oil to things like coffee or just eating it by the spoonful. It's best to avoid large amounts of anything and instead use it as a replacement for other saturated fats, like margarine or butter. You can spread it on toast, add it to a sweet potato or use it for frying. As long as your diet includes a balance of unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado oil and fish oils, than you can still have your coconuts and eat them too! 😉

- Nicole

Nicole is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian with a long standing passion for nutrition. In addition to her formal education, Nicole has worked within the natural products industry at Vital Choice Health Store since 2005. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.