According to Dr. Mary Enig, PhD, a world expert on fats, the research over the past 40 years has been quite clear: coconut oil has been shown to be beneficial for heart and health. Dr. Enig reports that the only exception to this has been when hydrogenated coconut oil has been used in studies. We now know that any oil that is hydrogenated oil is bad for us, due to the formation of trans-fats.
The humble coconut, although its fat composition is unique among oils*, is high in a unique type of saturated fat - medium chain triglycerides. The vast majority of research on saturated fats has been done on different types of saturated fat (long chain triglycerides), and usually animal saturated fats that contain cholesterol as well. In a way, coconut oil has been guilty by association, or nomenclature.
For over half a century the usual advice given about fats is to reduce them altogether and, in particular, to reduce saturated fat intake. It is no wonder that this is what most people still believe. About 10 years ago I went to a lecture where a very qualified doctor and scientist explained that saturated fats were not only good for us, but vital for our health, I thought they were mad!
We now have far more bits to the puzzle regarding saturated fats and health. This is largely due to the completion of some very large scientific studies that have debunked these long-standing beliefs. Tribute must also go to the many very brave scientists and nutritional experts who have publicly argued that saturated fat is beneficial, despite the consensus.
In recent years, two huge reviews of the available research regarding diet and heart disease were published.
They both showed no evidence that saturated fat was associated with heart disease. Total fat intake was also not associated with heart disease risk.
What was shown:
- Trans fats are very, very bad
- Omega 3 oils are very beneficial to heart health
- High glycaemic index foods are bad for heart health
- Vegetables, nuts and a Mediterranean diet are beneficial
- Monounsaturated fats are beneficial to heart health
- Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Am J Clin Nutr.2010 Mar;91(3):535-46. Epub 2010 Jan 13.
- A Systematic Review of the Evidence Supporting a Causal Link Between Dietary Factors and Coronary Heart Disease. Andrew Mente, PhD; Lawrence de Koning, MSc; Harry S. Shannon, PhD; Sonia S. Anand, MD, PhD, FRCPC. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(7):659-669. (Over 5000 research papers reviewed)
With regard specifically to coconut oil:
A review of the published literature (c 1988 -Blackburn et al) regarding coconut oil’s effect on serum cholesterol and atherogenesis (=plaque formation in arteries) showed that when coconut oil is eaten as part of a balanced diet with adequate amounts of omega 3 oils, coconut oil is neutral in terms of atherogenicity.
(By the way, the fat in arterial plaques is around 74% unsaturated and only 26% saturated fatty acids).
So, as part of a balanced diet, review of research shows coconut oil is does not contribute to clogged arteries.
I think it is a great advance that, through the internet, individuals are able to search information and make their own decisions. While it is tricky finding reliable information, if you want to know more on this subject, you can visit our links page here for the names of some of the scientists/doctors I believe are world leaders in the subject of fats and nutrition. Check out their work on the internet!
* Palm KERNAL oil is similar in composition, but the industry is responsible for ecological devastation and therefore I do not consider it an acceptable oil for human consumption.
Dr Flight (MBChB, FRNZCGP, FACNEM Grad. Dip. Clin. Nutr. Buist) is a medical doctor with a long-term interest in nutrition. She has been involved with the study and research of nutrition for 15 years, taught at the Canterbury College of Natural Medicine for 10 years, and has a special interest in fats, carbohydrates and human health. Dr Flight is currently completing a fellowship in nutritional medicine through the Australasian College of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine.