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For a consumer browsing the web, the conflicting information about the health or unhealthiness of coconut oil is confusing. What should I know?

What is coconut oil?

Coconut oil comes in two primary forms. Unrefined coconut oil (also called virgin coconut oil) that provides a rich flavor and refined coconut oil that is good for cooking at high temperatures.1

Is coconut oil healthy to cook with?

Celebrities, digital influencers, and even some doctors talk about the virtues of coconut oil. But the evidence is less supportive. About 90% of the coconut oil is saturated fat which is associated with poor cardiovascular health.2 In the figure below, saturated fat is displayed in red; flaxseed has the lowest amount all the way up to coconut oil with the highest amount of saturated fat.

SelectedFat Composition.v2

Why do people think coconut oil is healthy?

Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain saturated fats, which may offer some health benefits like raising HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”); however, the research is still inconclusive. Others have made claims of benefit for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or viral infections.Again, the research evidence we have right now does not support these claims. Overall, the evidence is that coconut oil is NOT beneficial for health.

Is it okay to eat coconut oil?

If you enjoy the taste of coconut oil, use it in small amounts for special occasions. Regularly choose heart-healthy oils rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, like canola and olive oils.1

For more information, check out the resource from Dietitians of Canada: cheers.fyi/CoconutOil 


References

  1. I've heard that coconut oil is the best oil to use. Is that true? Is coconut oil healthy to use? Will coconut oil help with weight loss? - Unlock Food. (n.d.). https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Fat/I-ve-heard-that-coconut-oil-is-the-best-oil-to-use. 
  2. Lima, R. D. S., & Block, J. M. (2019). Coconut oil: what do we really know about it so far?. Food Quality and Safety3(2), 61-72.