Reality check: Coconut oil is not healthy? Beware?

Coconut Oil

s50620677.jpg Coconut oil gets a bad rap because it mainly contains saturated fat, but proponents claim it helps fight disease. Is it really bad for your health? Get the facts.


by Rich Maloof for MSN Health & Fitness

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Many readers of MSN Health & Fitness took issue with our advice in the article “The Cholesterol Connection” to avoid coconut oil because it is a saturated fat. We listened, even appreciated, the flood of feedback in our inbox. This week, “Reality Check” takes a closer look at both sides of the debate over this tropical oil. Is it bad for you?

Reality Check

In health circles, coconut oil remains a subject of controversy.

Proponents of coconut oil cite the health and longevity of tropical populations that have been consuming large quantities of coconut oil for centuries. They maintain that coconut oil has been unfairly caught up in the fat-fearing food fads of the past few years.

In contrast, the Food and Drug Administration has informed consumers to avoid coconut oil, a saturated fat. (The American Medical Association agrees that saturated fats should be limited in our diets.) Evidence in favor of coconut oil has not yet met the FDA’s standards for recommendation; studies are regarded as either inadequately controlled or not extensive enough to be conclusive.

Reality Check

Coconut oil comes under fire because its main component is saturated fat.

Coconut oil is challenged on two fronts. First is the erroneous belief that all dietary fat becomes body fat—not all “fat in” equals “fat on.” Second is that it’s a saturated fat like the fat in beef, cheese, eggs and butter. “Saturated fatty acids tend to raise levels of LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) in the blood. Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with heart disease,” an FDA spokesman reminds us.

True enough, but studies increasingly indicate that a heart-healthy diet does not exclude saturated fat; rather, an appropriate balance of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats is best. Only a mixed-fat diet promotes a healthful ratio of LDL to HDL—the “good” cholesterol—and lowers the risk of heart disease..

Reality Check

Processed or “partially hydrogenated” coconut oil is unhealthy.

One thing both sides agree on is that when coconut oil is hydrogenated it becomes a trans fat, and trans fats are bad news. Trans fats have been closely associated with heart disease because they not only increase LDL cholesterol but impede the body’s ability to utilize HDL.

Unless you are cooking with virgin coconut oil, the only coconut oil in your diet may be hydrogenated, since that’s the form it takes in snack foods and nondairy creamers.

Reality Check

It’s been suggested that coconut oil bolsters the immune system.

Coconut oil may have properties like a natural antibiotic that renders some viruses, bacteria and fungi inactive. The work of Mary G. Enig, a biochemist who also has a doctorate in nutritional sciences, is often referenced by coconut oil enthusiasts. Enig says that the body uses an ingredient in coconut oil to make the disease-fighting substance monolaurin. (Read her speech “Health and Nutritional Benefits From Coconut Oil”). Infants use breast milk to make monolaurin, which keeps them from getting certain infections.

However, the FDA has strict guidelines for validating the health benefits of foods and drugs, and told MSN Health & Fitness that the administration “has not been petitioned to review claims for coconut oil.” More strongly, the Department of Health and Human Services sends warning letters to Web sites that market coconut-oil products based on therapeutic claims.

Reality Check

The assertion that coconut oil can cure hypothyroidism appears to be untrue.

The idea that coconut oil could cure an underactive thyroid was promoted in a 2003 article in Woman’s World  magazine as well as other materials on coconut oil; however, the sources for these pieces have been questioned. According to experts at Mayo Clinic, “there is no evidence that coconut oil stimulates thyroid function. In fact, some research suggests that coconut oil may have a negative impact on the thyroid.”

Reality Check

The debate on coconut oil continues …

Used in moderation and in its virgin, unprocessed form, coconut oil may ultimately be revealed as a harmless, neutral food. But the dust is still settling on this battlefield.

Reality Check: Coconut Oil” has been reviewed for accuracy by MSN Health & Fitness nutrition expert Keecha Harris, Dr.P.H., R.D., president of Harris and Associates.

17 Comments

  1. October 28, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    I hope this is printed. I stopped taking statins after reading all the books available about the trouble with taking statins. I started using tropical gold coconut oil and loved it. after 4 mo. of using it (I put it in my oatmeal, cookies, sautees, ect. I had a blood test. then I saw my Dr. and she was realy upset with me. My cholesterol (LDL) level doubled. .she said when ever money is to be made on a product you can’t expect those making the money to tell the truth. My high cholesterol is hereditary. It,s not because of anything I eat or don’t eat so all I did by eating coconut oil was to add to what my body makes and it’s way out of whack. The statins prescribed went from 20mg to 40mg in order to reduce the plaque building on the artery walls. The coconut oil did not reverse the cholesterol . It increased the LDLs .I could have a stroke by not going back on statins, Can anybody out there identify with this. Colleen

  2. Ally said,

    June 12, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    It really isn’t that bad, acutally coconut oil has many benefits, especially cosmetic such as for hair hydration and preventing premature ageing. Source: http://beauty.onehowto.com/article/what-are-the-cosmetic-benefits-of-coconut-oil-1481.html

  3. Jennifer said,

    April 10, 2015 at 4:04 am

    The best way to “prove” something is to test it yourself. I am a believer in coconut oil. I agree that the FDA is more like politicians out for themselves and not the public. I consume coconut oil daily, and my blood work always comes back perfect. I feel better since I added it to my diet. If you research the “science” of it all, you too will find it is a good thing.

  4. August 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    FDA may be fighting another battle to save their own interest. The medical science evidence and available facts are not just research proposals. FDA come on guys think positive. Save Lives. Money does not buy back life! PNG

  5. Carl Vigilante said,

    September 25, 2012 at 8:39 am

    May I suggest reading the book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by science journalist Gary Taubes.

  6. bahnsidhe said,

    August 11, 2012 at 5:30 am

    Why is no one mentioning the fact that, although coconut oil is saturated fat, the fat is made up of “medium chain fatty-acids”? Do some research on med. chain fatty acids and you will find that it is the only saturated fat that is allowed to go through your liver. This means that it does not stay in your body… it’s used up and the rest is flushed through your system in waste. The FDA is as corrupt as the people that have bought it. It has not been a Government entity since it was bought out by Monsanto.

    • bahnsidhe said,

      August 11, 2012 at 5:33 am

      Sorry “Deborah Gray”. I just saw your response… Thank Goodness someone else is mentioning that fact. 😀

  7. catstounge said,

    September 25, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    The FDA is corrupt through and through as is the Mayo Clinic, please do your own research and don’t be pushed in to anti health pro sickness groups.

  8. Batang said,

    August 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    FDA is not there for a more health concern issue. They’re there for MONEY.

  9. hefty broad said,

    January 24, 2011 at 9:21 am

    This is nuts. Why don’t people just eat what they like and not worry about it. We’ll have plenty of time to sleep when we are dead. Enjoy life!

  10. Doug Gray said,

    December 22, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Hello,
    I`m interested in any thyroid info relating to consumption of organic extra-virgin gently-extracted coconut oil.
    Is it safe to assume that most tests are not done with the best quality coconut oils?
    Thanks to Deborah Gray(no close relation….that I know of)for link to coconut research centre.I must get stuck into reading results from human trials(not rats&mice!)
    Wintry greetings from Blighty.
    Doug Gray
    07949960438.

  11. November 15, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    And if I can recall, saturated fat can be used to lessen weight as well right? For some the level of saturated fat in virgin coconut oil can be alarming, but the fact of the matter is, with proper control on what you eat, or the amount you take in, can determine how your body will react. For most, if not all, virgin coconut oil is a highly beneficial ingredient (and not just for cooking). Many websites like http://goo.gl/iuKyo have shown the positive effects of virgin coconut oil.

    This is straight from Wikipedia:

    “A single-blind randomized controlled trial on children with pneumonia at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center found that coconut oil accelerated the normalization of respiratory rate and resolution of crackles.

    A randomized double-blind clinical trial with 40 women exhibiting obesity found that supplementation with coconut oil promoted a reduction in obesity without causing dyslipidemia.[26]”

    That’s more than proof enough, right?

    • November 5, 2012 at 4:12 am

      Citation of 1 study is not sufficient scientific “proof” of ANYTHING. Scientific studies require corroboration from other researchers in order to obtain statistically validation.
      — professor steven a. fink

  12. Suzzette said,

    May 11, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    1. Would like verified data on the pros and cons of coconut.
    I/We would be purchasing a coconut and cracking it for fruit.
    2. FDA has allowed FOSAMAX to be prescribed. BAD, BAD, BAD IDEA.
    It effects the muscles in your throat, heart, and body in general.
    3. HOPE TO HEAR FROM YOU ABOUT COCONUT.
    Thanks much,
    Suzzette

  13. Deborah Gray said,

    March 3, 2010 at 4:33 am

    Rich,

    I read your article on Coconut Oil. I think this link I am sending from the coconutresearchcenter.org will allow you to see the research studies that are actually being done on coconut oil. Please don’t rely on the FDA, their wheels turn slower than molasses in January. I trust the scientific studies far and above them. The web site I am sending gives direct links to recognized scientific studies on coconut oil. Please read some of them especially those that explain the difference between medium chain fatty acids found in coconut oil and long chain fatty acids found in saturated fats from animal sources and polyunsaturated found in vegetable oils. The molecules are different and the medium chain fatty acids MCFA are not packaged by the body into lipoproteins like long chain fatty acids in meat and vegetable oil. Coconut oil is more like a carb, it goes directly to the portal vein and is used as enery. It is not stored like meat fats and vegetable fat. So then, how could coconut oil effect cholesterol? It is not packaged into lipoprotein particles like meat fats and vegetable fats. Coconut oil is a miracle fat. Do more research on the subject and you will find this out for yourself. Here is the link http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/coconut-research.htm Let me know what you think.

    Regards,
    Deborah Gray

  14. DesiFitness said,

    December 5, 2009 at 5:06 am

    I think some amount of saturated fat is required to put on muscle. Saturated fats from natural sources like nuts, vegetables and meat is healthy when combined with a good fitness regime. In this regard, Coconut is also healthy.

  15. May 27, 2009 at 3:19 am

    I used to believe if it came from the FDA it was gospel. Until I was affected by aspartame Toxcitiy. I am not super sensitive either, so that is not a reason behind my symptoms. I did a bit of research on my own and found how and why aspartame is on the market.

    Its been over a year not ingesting any apartame and the difference in many things including my mental clarity is outstanding.

    So while I wish the FDA truly had my best interest at heart and not the mighty dollar, I will continue from last year forth to watch and learn while listening to my own as well as other reputable research.


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