Coconut: the good oil?

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It’s easy to assume that coconut oil is well-established as a ‘healthy’ oil, these days, so entrenched is it in the advice of wellness gurus on social media; in popular recipe books, and in ‘healthy’ recipes everywhere you look.

It’s a great feat of marketing that coconut oil has achieved this status. I’ve seen claims (usually from people selling coconut oil) that it is anti-cancer; a great weight-loss tool and will encourage a healthy prostate. You name it – coconut oil will, apparently, fix it. It’s par for the course that it’s claimed it will improve blood cholesterol levels and heart health.
The only problem is, that doesn’t seem to be true. A review of 21 studies has been published in the journal Nutrition Reviews examining coconut oil’s effect on heart health. Its conclusion in a (coco)nutshell: coconut oil does not confer heart health benefits. In fact, when compared with unsaturated plant oils, coconut oil raises cholesterol levels, although not as much as butter does. The researchers reported: “No convincing evidence that consumption of coconut oil, as opposed to consumption of unsaturated oils, led to improved lipid profiles and a decreased risk of CVD was discovered…Overall, the weight of the evidence to date suggests that replacing coconut oil with…unsaturated fats would reduce CVD risk.”
In other words: coconut oil is not quite as bad for us as butter, but also not as good as unsaturated vegetable oils.
The researchers pointed out that coconut products, when consumed as part of a traditional diet – as it is in the traditional diets of some Pacific populations – doesn’t seem to create a heart-health risk. But, they say, this can’t be applied to a typical Western diet; simply changing the fat you use to coconut oil and eating as usual is likely to be just as bad as cooking everything in butter.
They also make the point that more research is needed in this area. As we know, science evolves, with each piece of research adding to the body of evidence. Contrary to what you may read, there haven’t been a great deal of good-quality trials on coconut oil. Hopefully that’s something we’ll see in the future.

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