The Hype on Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has consistently remained a trendy and hot topic in the modern fitness world. There are many claims saying that coconut oil supposedly helps to lower the risk of heart disease and fitness gurus praising it for giving their bodies quick energy for intensive exercise routines. Aside from the more traditional benefits of using coconut oil externally for moisturizing dry hair and skin, what is the truth about this health craze and debate? We will be exploring that in this post.
What is Coconut Oil made of?
In order to explore, we need to begin with studying the scientific profile. Coconut oil is made up of medium chain fatty acids (MCTs) with lauric acid, a type of saturated fat. Usually, these are the types of fats that stay solid at room temperature and are deemed unhealthy as they are believed to clog up arteries.1
Coconut oil gained a spike in attention when claims arose a few years ago saying that MCTs have a molecular structure that our bodies process differently compared to other saturated fats.2 Some of those claims came from research stating that coconut oil had fat burning properties that aids in weight loss.3
Sounds pretty awesome, and also too good to be true.
What Does the Science Say?
A more careful review of those research studies showed that many were done on animals, and ones done on humans were only short-term and showed modest health effects.3 An overview of 12 intervention studies showed that the group that consumed coconut oil had higher total cholesterol profiles, both LDL (the bad) and HDL (the good) cholesterol.3,4 In comparison though, the group that consumed oils with unsaturated fats had lower LDL cholesterol which implied that it was more beneficial for reducing the risk of heart disease.3,4
The conclusion from those studies? Coconut oil is actually not that much different than other saturated fats found in animal byproducts like butter in terms of how it impacts heart health.
The Showdown: Coconut Oil vs. Olive Oil
If you are not convinced yet, we can take a look at the nutrition food labels of olive oil and coconut oil side by side:
For every 1 tablespoon (one serving size), we can see that both oils have 14 grams (g) of total fats, but coconut oil has a whopping 13g of saturated fats (for comparison, butter has 10g) while olive oil only contains 2 g. Out of the 14g of total fats in olive oil, 11g of it comes from unsaturated fats while coconut oil only contains 1.5 g. We can see in these numbers a stark difference in the fat composition of olive oil and coconut oil.
For ages, there has been numerous reputable studies and research done to show that consuming unsaturated fats have significant long-term benefits for our bodies, notably in heart health.5 Considering all of the evidence, coconut oil, unfortunately, does not live up to its hype of health benefits.
What is the final verdict?
For optimal health outcomes, oils with unsaturated fats like olive oil should be preferred and used more frequently than coconut oil. A common concern is that olive oil is not good for cooking in high heat. However, its chemical structure actually allows olive oil to remain stable due to its high monounsaturated fat and antioxidant content.6
Despite our verdict on coconut oil, it does not mean that everyone should avoid it completely. For its unique flavor, coconut oil may be necessary for ethnic cuisines such as Thai dishes or even baked goods. Rather than incorporating coconut oil for everyday cooking or consuming it in spoon fulls, try using it more as a treat. If you have a tub of coconut oil sitting in your cabinet and are not sure about what to do with it anymore, you can’t go wrong with making some nourishing homemade hair masks!
- Saturated, Unsaturated, and Trans Fats. In: Choose My Plate; 2015.
- Corliss J. Cracking the Coconut Oil Craze – Harvard Health Blog. In:2017.
- Gunnars K. Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Coconut Oil. 2018; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.
- Eyres L, Eyres MF, Chisholm A, Brown RC. Coconut Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Humans. In: Nutr Rev. Vol 74.2016:267-280.
- Bunch J. Coconut Oil vs. Olive Oil for Heart Health. 2016; https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/jared-bunch-rhythm-of-life/coconut-oil-olive-oil-heart-health/.
- Gunnars K. Is It a Good Idea to Cook With Olive Oil? A Critical Look. 2018; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-olive-oil-good-for-cooking.