The Real Impact of Coconut Oil to Our Health

In an online video that recently went viral, a Harvard professor named Karin Michels takes on coconut oil, calling it “pure poison.” People then wonder, is coconut oil really bad?
The lecture by Michels was delivered in German. As translated by Business Insider Deutschland, the title of the discussion was “Coconut Oil and Other Nutritional Errors.” While Michels takes such a harsh view on coconut oil, many other experts are also dubious about its degree of popularity as a healthy food.
The New York Times food writer Sophie Egan and health writer Roni Rabin answered the readers’ inquiries about the health benefits of coconut oil:

1. Why is coconut oil considered healthy after being proclaimed unhealthy for about three decades?

Coconut oil’s image has changed over the recent years, and a number of natural food stores stock the product as an investment. Despite the hype about it, Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy, said there’s actually no data to support the hype. In fact, coconut oil is high in saturated fatty acids, which produces some links to heart disease and high cholesterol levels. Although critics have raised questions about the evidence for the link, dietary guidelines urge Americans to cut down saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily calories, or roughly 20 grams for a 2,000-calorie/day diet.

Dr. Lichtenstein added that while there is little research on the health impact of coconut oil, there seems to be “no independent benefit of consuming it.” With that said, there are many kinds of coconut oil and virgin coconut oil, which is mildly processed, that may not produce the same harmful effects as highly processed oils, according to Dr. Tom Brenna, Cornell University’s professor of human nutrition. Refined, bleached, and deodorized coconut oil, or R.B.D., has been subjected to intense heat and treated with solvents. It elevates cholesterol levels to the degree that scientists and researchers have used it as control when experimenting with different fats. The harsh processing is said to destroy some of the antioxidants and good essential fatty acids, such as lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that raises good H.D.L. cholesterol.
Dr. Brenna clarified that if ever you’re purchasing coconut oil at the grocery store using your credit cards, make sure to get the virgin oil. He added that we should use it in moderation only.

2. Which is better with cooking? Coconut oil or olive oil?

When we talk about health impacts, it is suggested to cook with olive oil. Compared to a spoonful of olive oil, a tablespoon of coconut oil has about six times the amount of saturated fat, almost meeting the limit of about 13 grams/day that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends. As we’ve mentioned, high saturated fat intake has been linked to increased levels of bad cholesterol, or LDL, which increases the risk of heart disease and hospitalization or frequent use of health insurance.

Moreover, olive oil is the main component of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and contains beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. While some studies reveal the main type of saturated fatty acid found in coconut oil is lauric acid (increases good cholesterol or HDL), it still appears to increase the bad cholesterol or LDL as well. Although, a recent study discovered that lauric acid did not appear to raise the risks of heart disease quite as much as many other types of saturated fatty acids, including palmitic acid, which is mainly found in butter.

While extra-virgin coconut oil contains phytochemicals, most of the coconut oil that we find on the market is refined and only provides a few of those antioxidants. According to Dr. Qi Sun, Harvard Medical School’s associate professor of medicine, the saturated fat in extra-virgin coconut oil outweighs the beneficial effects of the antioxidants to a huge degree.
Needless to say, cooking with olive oil rather than coconut oil is highly recommended for overall health.