There seems to be a smear campaign bouncing around mainstream media against coconut oil. I’ve read headlines titled “Coconut oil has more saturated fat than beef fat, but is it still healthy?,” “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy,” and even “Coconut Oil Is Unhealthy According To The American Heart Association.”
A lot of this came as a shock to the public, as the media was just reporting how healthy coconut oil is a few short months ago. Yet, with our seemingly limitless access to information, we are now faced with science and news stories that support every side to every issue. That’s why it’s crucial that we look at all sides through an unbiased lens, taking an observational approach rather than allowing our belief systems to affect our perceptions.
So, is coconut oil really unhealthy? Well, the American Heart Association seems to think so. But then again, the AHA also recommends consuming poultry, fish, and dairy to promote a “heart healthy” diet, all of which can have a negative impact on your health. For example, conventional chicken is often injected with tons of sodium, and so even if you’re eating what you think is plain, unseasoned chicken, you’re still intaking loads of salt.
The AHA even addressed this issue, as spokeswoman and dietician Liz Trondsen said that “People believe that when they’re getting chicken, they’re getting a low-sodium food. They need to be aware of this.”
However, the AHA did make some excellent points, and we really should not be consuming high amounts of fat (although some people do thrive on high fat diets like the ketogenic diet, so this is all relative to your own body). So, is coconut oil really comparable to beef and butter? Should we cut coconut oil out of our diets altogether? Let’s take a look at the different health benefits and risks of coconut oil.
Is Coconut Oil Healthy? Here’s the Controversy
The debate over coconut oil originally stemmed from a June 2017 report published by the AHA comparing coconut oil to beef and butter. The report stated that 82% of coconut oil is saturated fat, whereas butter contains only 63%, beef fat contains 50%, and pork lard contains 39%.
It’s not that the information provided by the AHA is incorrect per se, it’s that it’s easily taken out of context. It’s no secret that red meat is linked to cancer and heart disease, and can even take years off of your life, according to Harvard University. Is the AHA really suggesting that it’s better for your body to ingest beef fat than coconut oil?
In truth, this is not necessarily the case. Yes, beef fat, butter, and pork lard contain less saturated fat than coconut oil, but than doesn’t mean they’re better for you than coconut oil, especially as red meat and dairy have both been linked to heart disease. That’s sort of like saying consuming a low-calorie, low-fat, chemical-ridden dressing is better for you than consuming a dressing made with a whole avocado.
We’ve seen this type of confusion before in regards to sugar as well. People will go on sugar-free diets thinking they’re better for you, but they’ll cut fruit out as well. People literally thrive off of eating fruitarianism diets, which is because the sugar in fruit and the sugar found in conventional baked goods is very different. Fruit won’t cause cancer, but refined sugar could.
The report suggested not consuming coconut oil because it can increase “bad” cholesterol (LDL); however, what the report left out is that it can also increase “good” cholesterol (HDL). A Brazilian study found that coconut oil can provide a healthy increase to HDL cholesterol, and can even help heart disease patients reduce excess body mass and slim their waistlines, both of which can help prevent heart problems. Interestingly enough, coconut oil could also be used to treat elevated LDL.
Harvard University explained the importance of HDL, stating: “The ratio of total cholesterol-to-HDL is important; the smaller the number the better. For example, someone with a total cholesterol of 200 and an HDL of 60 would have a ratio of 3.3 (200 ÷ 60 = 3.3). If that person’s HDL was low — let’s say 35 —the total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio would be higher: 5.7.”
Another Harvard doctor, Walter C. Willett, M.D., weighed in on the unusual comparison between beef fat, butter, lard, and coconut oil, explaining that “plant-based oils are more than just fats. They contain many antioxidants and other substances, so their overall effects on health can’t be predicted just by the changes in LDL and HDL.”
It’s important to note that cholesterol is not necessarily the main cause of heart disease either, and there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding this, namely because Big Pharma makes a lot of money off of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Some doctors such as Dr. Axe and certain studies (1, 2, 3) have suggested that we should focus more on lowering inflammation, as this could be the leading cause of heart disease.
MIT Scientist Raymond Francis wrote a fascinating paper on this subject titled “The Cholesterol Myth,” arguing that “the answer is a story involving the triumph of money and power over science.”
Francis goes on to explain:
Atherosclerosis—the main cause of heart attacks and strokes—is the accumulation of fatty plaque inside the walls of major arteries. As the disease progresses, arteries become increasingly narrow, making it easier for a blood clot or piece of dislodged plaque to completely block blood flow, resulting in either a heart attack or a stroke. When cholesterol was found to be a major component of arterial plaque, the “cholesterol theory of heart disease” was born, thinking that high cholesterol levels cause atherosclerosis. The truth, however, is not so simple. Cholesterol is an anti¬oxidant, a repair and healing molecule. The body produces more of it in response to stress and tissue damage, when repair and healing are needed. Remove the causes of the body’s distress, like inflammation and oxidation, and you lower cholesterol. It turned out that blaming cholesterol for heart disease makes as much sense as blaming the Red Cross for the disasters it responds to.
You can read more about that in our CE article here.
Dr. Axe further explains why we need to address the root cause of the problem, which is inflammation, stating, “Imagine your arteries as pipes in your home. If your pipe is damaged and springs a leak, you need to go and patch and repair the area. The problem isn’t high cholesterol. That’s merely the cause of an inflammatory lifestyle.”
One of the more concerning elements of the AHA’s recent report was their ranking of oils. The only oil that ranked worse than coconut oil was palm kernel oil, and instead the AHA recommended consuming soy and corn oils instead. The issue there is that approximately 90% of all soy and corn crops are genetically modified, meaning that they’re sprayed with Monsanto’s potent herbicide, Roundup. Keep in mind that pesticides don’t just wash off, as they end up in the food they’re sprayed on. (For example, this Norwegian study found high levels of glyphosate on GM soy.)
The active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, which poses a large variety of health risks. One study suggested that glyphosate can cause celiac disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney failure, miscarriages, infertility, birth defects, obesity, autism, depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cancer.
Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), revealed a disturbing fact: Glyphosate is possibly “the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies.”
So, is coconut oil unhealthy for you? It’s difficult to say, as there are clearly some downsides, but there are some serious upsides to consuming it too. It’s high in saturated fat, which is clearly not good for you in high quantities, but that doesn’t necessarily make coconut oil an enemy to our bodies given the long list of health benefits.
In addition, the comparisons the AHA made are relatively misleading. Butter, red meat, pork lard, and conventional soy and corn oils are not healthy for the human body. To recommend these as substitutes is irresponsible, and should make you question whether or not the AHA is your best source for information.
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Additional Potential Health Benefits and Risks of Coconut Oil
The benefits of coconut oil include, but are not limited to: improves digestion and metabolism, fights infections, regulates body weight, supports organ and heart health, enhances immune system function, treats yeast infections, and more.
A study published in the journal Cancer Research suggested that coconut oil could play a role in treating colon cancer, as an active anti-cancer component in coconut oil called lauric acid constitutes 50% of its makeup. Researchers at the University of Adelaide discovered this component completely exterminated more than 90% of colon cancer cells after just two days of treatment in a colon cancer cell line (CRC) in vitro. Read more in our CE article here.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are the primary type of fat found in coconut oil. MCTs have been found to boost cognitive performance in older adults suffering from memory disorders like Alzheimer’s. MCTs have been viewed as a superfood of late, thus becoming more popular in the mainstream.
So, coconut oil clearly has some health benefits, but that’s not to say it’s healthy for you 100% of the time. Oil isn’t something you want to consume lots of, since it is pure fat, which isn’t good for our bodies in high contents. However, fat is a necessary part of our diets, to a certain degree.
As Dr. Axe explains, “The truth about saturated fat? We need it. At least 50 percent of our cell membranes are made of saturated fatty acids. This does everything from enhancing the immune system to protecting the liver from toxins.“
Plus, any oil can become unhealthy if cooked at a certain temperature. The smoke point of coconut oil is 350°F, which means that if you cook with it at a higher temperature than its smoke point, it will burn, producing toxic fumes and harmful free radicals. This can be related to any type of cooking oil, and is why many people prefer not to cook with extra-virgin olive oil, which has a lower smoke point.
Coconut oil is clearly both healthy and unhealthy at times, which is why you should still limit your intake. However, this is true of all oils, because an extremely high fat diet doesn’t always serve your body in the best way possible. If you choose to consume coconut oil, try to make it cold-pressed and organic.
This entire AHA situation is an excellent example of why you should do your own research and not simply believe things at face value. Just because someone says that something is “better for you” doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
For more information on coconut oil, check out our CE articles:
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