Is Coconut Oil Actually Healthy?
Everyone is going coo-coo for coconut. Coconut oil is one of the trendiest ingredients in the kitchen right now, and not just in baked goods and stir-fries. Health enthusiasts nationwide are adding coconut oil to coffee, blending it into smoothies, and even eating it by the tablespoon. But is coconut oil, which is 92% saturated fat, actually healthy?
A 2016 meta-analysis published in Nutrition Reviews finds when it comes to heart health, the answer is “NO”. Researchers from New Zealand reviewed 21 studies that looked at the effect of coconut oil on cardiovascular risk. Generally, coconut oil was found to raise total and LDL cholesterol substantially more than unsaturated plant oils (though not as much as butter). Researchers conclude there is no evidence that coconut oil should be viewed differently from other foods high in saturated fat.
Coconut oil’s health halo came from recent publicity on medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA)—the claim is that these fats behave differently than harmful long-chain saturated fatty acids in the body. MCFA are absorbed more quickly and sent directly to the liver where they are used for energy. The primary fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, and although it can be classified as either medium- or long-chain, it sides with long-chain in terms of metabolism. It turns out only about 4% of the fats in coconut oil can be classified as medium-chain, making it inaccurate to consider coconut oil to contain predominantly medium-chain fatty acids.
The bottom line is, a little coconut oil eaten along with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables likely won’t harm your health, but you’re better off keeping olive oil as the go-to in your kitchen. "I use a small amount of olive oil in many of my recipes as I see this as a true health benefit compared to most fats” explains Chef Mark Allison, Director of Culinary Nutrition at Dole.
And by no means should you be downing tablespoons of coconut oil as a supplement. Says Mark: “I’m a great believer in moderation in all things, especially where food is concerned.” Keep saturated fat intake to less than 7% of your calories a day, and choose mainly unsaturated fats like olive oil and others listed in our handy guide to oils.
Published May 1, 2016