Is Coconut Oil Healthy or Unhealthy?
February 19, 2021 in
Healthy Eating, Opinion, Research by
Craig Primack MD FACP
A few years ago, during the height of the KETO fad, a friend suggested I start cooking with coconut oil. But what does the medical literature say about it? Is coconut oil healthy or unhealthy? Let’s find out.
Coconut Oil Health Myths
Coconut oil (Cocos nucifera) is high in saturated fat. So one would think it’s unhealthy, right? But in a 2016 survey, 72% of Americans viewed coconut oil as healthy.
Oils high in saturated fat, like coconut oil, actually increase LDL cholesterol which can lead to atherosclerosis. LDL delivers cholesterol to the arterial wall causing obstruction, inflammation, and heart disease. That doesn’t sound healthy, does it?
Made of medium chain-triglycerides (at least 65%), coconut oil with 12 carbons acts as a long-chain fatty acid. They’re absorbed into chylomicrons (a fat with lipid cells), raising LDL cholesterol.
Coconut Oil and Cholesterol
In a published review from 2016, seven trials tested the effect of coconut oil on LDL cholesterol. Coconut oil was compared to oils with high unsaturated fat. In 6 of the 7 trials, coconut oil had significant detrimental effects.
Another review looked at 17 trials where coconut oil increased LDL and HDL cholesterol. But it had no effect on body weight, body fat, and inflammation in comparison with vegetable oils.
There are no randomized clinical studies that show the effect of coconut oil on heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.
Claimed Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Recent publications and media give the impression that coconut oil has beneficial health aspects. For example, it increases metabolic rate and lipolysis that overcome the LDL increase.
If in fact there are beneficial effects, they likely disappear after 2 weeks. But there are no human studies to support or refute this belief. Most of the published studies look at coconut oil to moisturize the skin, a potentially better way to use it than cooking.
A Doctors Opinion on Coconut Oil
My belief is that the best cooking oils are olive oil and canola oil. Coconut oil should not be used as a regular cooking oil.