Coconut oil has recently gained popularity due to heavy marketing in the US and Australia. There is a significant amount of misinformation about its health benefits with most marketing extolling the virtues of coconut oil. Most claims that are made are testimonials rather than hard evidence of benefit.
Coconut oil is exceptionally high in saturated fat (92%). It has been shown in several randomised controlled trials to increase total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) more than other oils (sunflower, olive, and avocado oils) but not quite to the extent as butter. High total cholesterol and particularly high LDL cholesterol have been shown conclusively to increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease so it stands to reason that coconut oil isn’t good for your arteries or heart health.
There has been research to determine if coconut oil could help people lose weight however only one trial has looked at this. In that trial there was a statistically significant reduction in waist circumference by 2.87cm over a month in people who consumed 30mls of virgin coconut oil a day. Disappointingly, when the results were broken down by gender it was only men who had this diminishing of their waistlines; women had no change in their measurements.
There is very little data as to the health outcomes of people who consume high amounts of coconut oil. It can be used as a culinary oil but as with all high fat foods its consumption should be limited (7-10% of total calories per day maximum). Although it can be better than butter, current evidence recommends against switching from unsaturated oils to coconut oil as a result of the current fad.
For the humble coconut all is not lost though. There is evidence that other coconut products such as the flesh and milk - both of which contain fibre – when included in a balanced healthy diet containing fruit, vegetables and lean meat, do not have negative effects on a person’s health.
With this in mind pass me a pina colada!