Coconut oil has had a meteoric rise in popularity thanks to its ‘superfood’ marketing angle. One of the big claims made about its ‘heart health’ benefits has been called into question by a recent review of the scientific evidence.
Coconut oil certainly is attracting a lot of attention for its many claimed health benefits. Many of the health claims though represent marketing being well advanced of the science. Coconut oil is a pin-up food to showcase the power of the Internet to propagate any food to ‘superfood’ status. Coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, at around 90 percent. It is claimed that the type of saturated fat found in it is healthier than other types of saturated fat so it doesn’t represent a risk to cardiovascular health.
Populations that use coconut oil as part of their traditional lifestyles do appear to have lower rates of heart disease. So this gives some credence to the heart-health claims. But of course, such observational studies can be heavily biased by all sorts of other lifestyle factors. There have been some clinical trials that appear to show that coconut oil may have less of an adverse effect on blood cholesterol than other types of saturated fat. But that doesn’t mean then that it is healthier than other types of oils.
Looking at the observational and clinical trial evidence together, what sort of conclusions can be drawn? Combining 21 published studies, New Zealand researchers found that coconut oil did raise the less favourable LDL-cholesterol to a greater extent than other types of plant oils. Butter however was found to raise LDL-cholesterol even more.
When the observational evidence was looked at, it was almost impossible to state that coconut oil was an explanation for any heart health benefits. Traditional dietary patterns and lifestyles are the main explanation for this. In such diets, coconut oil is eaten together with the fibre from the coconut along with plenty of omega-3 fats from fish. These traditional diets also are low in highly refined carbohydrates and sugar. Compare that to the popular coconut oil dessert-based dishes that abound in its promotion through social media.
What it all means
Coconut oil is not some miracle health elixir. On balance it should not be viewed as much different from other sources of dietary saturated fat. It has its place in cooking like any oil or fat, but it is better to consider using a variety of oils in cooking for the job at hand and the taste outcome a person wants.
And for entertainment purposes, here’s the inspiration for the blog post title.