Despite what you may have heard from your fitness blog, health magazine, or friendly foodie, coconut oil is not a healthy addition to your daily diet- at least not yet.
Debate continues to rage about the healthfulness of coconut oil, with the American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, Harvard Health, and a number of other large health bodies still not giving coconut oil the green light.
In fact, the American Heart Association issued a presidential advisory on coconut oil in 2017, citing substantial concern over the shallow research into the supposedly “beneficial” effect of coconut oil consumption. Whether or not you are trying to lose weight by taking diet pills, eating right and exercising regularly, or you just want to live your healthiest lifestyle, it’s better to err on the side of caution when consuming coconut oil.
While epidemiological studies of island tribes and populations living in tropical environments (where coconut oil is a part of the traditional diet) have shown lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, the totality of diet must be taken into context; individuals consuming traditional island or tribal diets tend to eat much healthier diets than those living in Westernized populations, and tend to have much lower body weights- both potent factors in the prevention of heart disease.
In other words? The consumption of coconut oil may not be the factor belying the relatively low incidence of cardiovascular disease in these populations. In all likelihood, the totality of diet is the overwhelming factor in reduced cardiovascular risk.
What we do know for sure, however, is that individuals living in westernized countries who consume more saturated fat (coconut oil is more than 90% saturated) also have a higher risk for heart disease, Type II diabetes, stroke, dementia, and alzheimer’s disease- which is why, for years, we’ve been warned to stay away from coconut oil in favor of oils like canola and olive oil, which are primarily unsaturated fats.
While there is the likelihood that new research will vindicate coconut oil, the current research has been so shallow that no large, authoritative health body has endorsed the consumption of coconut oil. All studies that have shown some level of positive finding have been in either tribal/island populations, or in mice/rat models.
Thus far, no firm link between coconut oil consumption and beneficial health outcomes in westernized human populations have been reported.
Given the substantial body of research that currently supports the avoidance of coconut oil, and given what we known about the benefits of consuming other types of unsaturated oils and fats (such as avocado, olives and olive oil, etc), it’s much safer to consume oils that have been given a clear, directive green light- from the professionals, not health bloggers. Understanding fat types and sticking to the AHA guidelines is the best bet.
When considering jumping on a dietary trend, always do your research! Until we know for sure, risking vascular health (really, who wants to increase their risk for Alzheimer’s disease?) isn’t worth a dietary fad.
Morgan Medeiros is a certified nutritionist, holding a both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Morgan completed her undergraduate education at Central Washington University, and her graduate education at Northeastern University. During her time as a graduate student, Morgan focused her area of expertise in health education, weight management, and behavioral change. Morgan has experience working in areas of nutritional neuroscience and disease prevention, obesity prevention, and weight loss. Morgan also works in areas of nutritional analysis and menu labeling for restaurants, where she is able to creatively bridge her interest in food culture and health education. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, reading, writing, running, and spending time with her family and friends (including- most importantly- her dog, Clyde).