For years, the Western world demonized coconut oil for supposedly increasing cholesterol and causing heart attacks, even using full-page newspaper ads to do so. It turned out that the soybean industry used this advertising ploy of dissing the competition to expand and keep its market share. Greed can make people dishonest and untrustworthy, putting money above health benefits and customer service.
So here is the unbiased truth…
Although it is advertised as healthy, it's really not. Coconut oil is the ‘fad of the decade’.
Its popularity soared after a book about it was published, in which the author made a long list of health benefit claims. None of these claims was founded in research. How do I know? I looked it up in the PubMed Medline research database. In fact, the claims made for coconut oil were largely claims that can be made for the essential omega-3 oils on the basis of published peer-reviewed research. Coconut oil consists mainly of saturated fats, some of which have recently been shown to increase LDL, a cardiovascular risk factor.
Although coconut oil is better fuel for weight management than carbohydrates, it contains virtually no essential omega-3 (less than 1%) and very little omega-6 (less than 2%) fatty acids. This can be a serious problem if we have no reliable source of these essential nutrients in our usual food intake.
Even more serious is that all coconut oils that were imported until about 15 years ago were highly processed, refined and damaged, and did indeed increase cholesterol levels. These kinds of over-processing-damaged oils are still widely used in commercial applications.
Virgin, unrefined, fresh, raw coconut oil became available in North America less than two decades ago. It still does not provide the essential fatty acids that are too low in most people’s food supply, but it is fresher, tastes good, provides fuel, is a rich source of powerful antioxidants, gives stable energy, is easy for the liver to burn (metabolize), and helps reduce cravings for carbohydrates.
But recent research showed that even raw coconut oil can increase LDL (the bad) cholesterol. However, when you eat the whole coconut, LDL does not go up. Researchers think that the fiber that is present in the coconut, but removed when the oil is made, protects the body from jacking up the ‘bad’ LDL levels.
From coconut oil, by the processes of fractionation and/or inter-esterification, industry makes medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These, too, while no longer ‘natural’ in the sense of ‘in their natural form’, are still easy for the liver to use. MCTs are popular as ‘thin’ oils. Athletes can use them as fuel, and people with weight problems can use them instead of carbohydrates for energy.
But again, with MCTs, there is an issue you need to be aware of. MCTs usually consist of a mixture of fatty acids that are 6, 8, 10 and 12 carbons long. Unfortunately, the 12-carbon fatty acid (lauric acid), which makes up close to half of the oil, increases cholesterol. So if you use MCTs, make sure you get the ones that contain only 6, 8, and 10 carbon fatty acids.
MCTs are better than sugars and starches (carbohydrates). But, used instead of carbs, oils rich in omega-3 properly balanced with omega-6 provide better results in weight management and sports performance than do MCTs or coconut oil which, as I mentioned before, contain neither of the omega fatty acids.
To put the story of fats and oils into perspective, let me remind you that from the universe of oils and fats, only two molecules are required to be given in optimum amounts if you’re shooting for optimum health: the omega-3 and the omega-6 essential fatty acids. More highly sensitive to damage done by light, oxygen, and heat than any other nutrient molecules, they must be made, stored, and used with more care than any other nutrient. But we give them the least care when we throw them hot frying pans and turn them into smoke. Overheated oils cause more health problems than any other aspect of nutrition.
Cooking with coconut oil is not good from any perspective of good health. It is just less worse than cooking with liquid oils. People like its stability, parading its high smoke point as a good thing for health, which it is not. Frying damages both oil and food molecules. From the perspective of health, it is the worst thing we have ever invented to do to foods. You can learn more about the damage done by cooking with oils in my upcoming book Your Body Needs an Oil Change: How to Use Good Oils to Look, Feel, Think, Do, & Heal Better.
The bottom line is that omega-3 and omega-6 are the only fats you must have to live and be healthy. That being the case, give priority to making sure you optimize your intake of these two. Only after you have done that, should you consider adding saturated fats that come from coconuts to your food program.
Udo Erasmus has extensive education in biochemistry, biology and an MA in Counseling Psychology from Adler University. He is the author of Fats and Oils, Fats That Heal Fats That Kill, Choosing the Right Fats, Omega 3 Cuisine, The Book on Total Sexy Health, and the upcoming Your Body Needs an Oil Change: How to Use Good Oils to Look, Feel, Think, Do, & Heal Better. Udo is the creator of Udo’s Oil® 3·6·9 Blend, a multiple award-winning mix of plant-based, unrefined, certified organic food oils made with health in mind.