Some topics seem to generate ongoing confusion. One of these areas of contention is whether or not coconut oil is harmful or beneficial for health. If you search online, you’ll find a wide range of opinions. We tried to answer our reader’s question with facts.
Is Coconut Oil Good or Bad?
Q. Who’s right? My surgeon says that coconut oil is very bad for me and will cause heart attacks. So many others recommend it.
Is coconut oil good for you or not? I have been cooking with it for about a month now and wonder if I should stop.
What Happens to People Who Use Coconut Oil?
A. Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, so it got a bad rap with respect to heart health. In a study published last year, though, patients with heart disease were randomly assigned to cook with either coconut oil or sunflower oil for two years (Vijayakumar et al, Indian Heart Journal, Jul-Aug. 2016). At the end of that time, there were no differences in the impact on blood fats or cardiovascular events.
Epidemiological research does not show a connection between coconut oil consumption and an increased risk of heart disease (Eyres et al, Nutrition Reviews, April, 2016). The researchers concluded that based on intervention studies, replacing coconut oil with vegetable oils would be helpful. That, however, is somewhat speculative.
In fact, a study published last year found that Dutch people who ate a lot of saturated fat were no more likely to develop coronary artery disease than those who shunned it (Praagman et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2016). While this does not definitively settle the question, Is coconut oil good or bad? it suggests that we should not automatically assume coconut oil is dangerous.
If you are interested in exploring the question of saturated fat a bit further, you might wish to listen to our Show 991: New Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In it, we talk with nutrition experts Christopher Gardner, PhD, of the Stanford Prevention Research Center and Eric Westman, MD, of Duke University Medical Center.