I love coconut oil. It takes great, and you feel vaguely virtuous for using a “healthy oil.” But I have misgivings about giving it a completely free pass and using it for everything. In Dr. Oz’s recent “99 Amazing Uses for Coconut Oil” he recommends it for everything from your morning coffee to treating cuts to everything you cook. It’s even good for a nursing mother’s nipples, introducing infants to coconut oil right along with mother’s milk.
Much of the hype surrounding coconut is because. “coconut oil comprises medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). MCFA are unique in that they are easily absorbed and metabolised by the liver, and can be converted to ketones. Ketone bodies are an important alternative energy source in the brain.” (cite here) These health benefits are compared to the ill-effects of saturated fatty acids. But more recent analysis of the “data revealed that dietary saturated fatty acids (SFAs) are not associated with CAD and other adverse health effects or at worst are weakly associated” (cite here) So we’re using coconut to avoid something else that tastes as good and may not be any worse for us. In a trial of different fats versus transfats, all of them worked: “each 1% energy replacement of TFAs with SFAs, MUFAs or PUFAs, respectively, decreased the total cholesterol” (cite here)
Coconut isn’t just a replacement for saturated fats. “The parts of its fruit like coconut kernel and tender coconut water have numerous medicinal properties such as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic, antidermatophytic, antioxidant, hypoglycemic, hepatoprotective, (and) immunostimulant…The coconut palm is, therefore, eulogised as ‘Kalpavriksha’ (the all giving tree) in Indian classics” (cite here) I guess we should use it for everything.
But this magical tree doesn’t necessarily result in the expected benefits. Natives who consumed lots of coconuts did not have more heart disease, but also did not have less of it. (cite here) When calves are fed either coconut oil (CO) or tallow: “Feeding on the CO diet induced an 18-fold increase in the hepatic concentration of triacylglycerols” (cite here)
Sometimes coconut and palm oil are discussed as equally healthy. Palm oil clearly is not. “for every additional kilogram of palm oil consumed per-capita annually, IHD mortality rates increased by 68 deaths per 100,000 (95% CI [21-115]), whereas, in similar settings, stroke mortality rates increased by 19 deaths per 100,000” (cite here) In rats, coconut oil benefits rats “suffering” from heated palm oil.(cite here)
Rather than an all-or-nothing approach to any foodstuff, it’s better to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. In a rat trial of the heart: “The cardiac mitochondria from rats fed with coconut oil showed the lowest concentration of oxidized proteins and peroxidized lipids.” We could conclude “Yes! Coconut oil is great!” The researchers went on: “The fish oil diet leads to the highest oxidative stress in cardiac mitochondria, an effect that could be partly prevented by the antioxidant probucol.” We could conclude that fish oil is a terrible choice, so why are all of our doctors recommending it? But the next sentence tells a different story: “Total and LDL cholesterols decreased in plasma of rats fed fish oil, compared to olive and coconut oils fed rats.” So now we have a better picture of what the oils do in rats. We don’t have that clear a picture about what happens in humans, regardless of the current fad. (cite here)