Ah, the world of nutrition, it is rife with fads and trends that keep us addicted to a low nutrient, high-saturated fat diet for a variety of reasons; a diet that supposedly keeps us “satisfied”, and usually, in response to our infatuation and addiction to the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Even in the process of eating “healthier”, many of us keep on keeping on staying stuck eating low nutrient foods sold as “nutrient rich”, as brain food, etc… We refer to these as half-baked healthier diet foods that comprise, what are really just healthier versions of the SAD. For a great example, of such a food, you don’t need to look any further than the latest fad–“Coconut Oil”
According to our nutritional research partner NutritionFacts, Coconut is a healthy as “butter”, watch the video here. Of course, anyone who knows how to eat healthy, knows they don’t need to rely on “oil”, plant based or not, medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) or not.
You see, here at nutrientrich.com, we are not based on merely plant-based eating principles. We are based on the basic principle of nutritarian or “nutrient rich” nutrition and I assure you that coconut oil, even with its small amount of MCT fat, which may be a little less fattening than saturated fat, is not nutrient rich.
According to Dr. Fuhrman:
“To admire coconut oil, a person has to completely disagree with the foundation of my work, H = N/C. That is I am trying to encourage people to eat a diet with a higher micronutrient per calorie density. The way to do this is by avoiding empty calories. Coconut oil is a perfect example of the most empty calorie food in existence. You just get a huge caloric load with essentially no compensatory micronutrients. The small amount of MCT fat, even though may be a little less fattening than saturated fat is no advantage because this slight advantage is overwhelmed by the high amount of saturated fat in the oil. So I think the question itself illustrates a either a lack of understanding of the value of micronutrient density, or a disagreement with this basic principle of nutritarian nutrition”
You are being fed a greasy story.
Hundreds of articles in the medical literature document that coconut oil rich in saturated fat raises cholesterol and accelerates atherosclerosis in both humans and animal models. It is true that the saturated fat in coconut is a little different than butter and is not as bad as butter, cheese and meat fat, but nevertheless it is harmful, not beneficial on heart disease risk.
Saturated fats are not man-made, like trans fat (hydrogenated oil) which are as bad as the meat-derived saturated fat. That does not mean I am against eating coconuts and coconut milk, as some of this less dangerous type of saturated fat as part of an otherwise excellent diet is not a problem, however ingesting coconut oil thinking it is a health food is way off the mark. See a few references below.
Coconut fat and serum lipoproteins: effects of partial replacement with unsaturated fats. Br J Nutr 2001 May;85(5):583-9. Psyllium husk fiber supplementation to the diets rich in soybean or coconut oil: hypocholesterolemic effect in healthy humans. Int J Food Sci Nutr 1996 Mar;47(2):103-10. Effects of dietary coconut oil, butter and safflower oil on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and lathosterol levels. Eur J Clin Nutr 1998 Sep;52(9):650-4. Modulation of the regression of atherosclerosis in the hamster by dietary lipids: comparison of coconut oil and olive oil. Br J Nutr 1999 Nov;82(5):401-9
According to fellow nutritarian, Dr. David….
“LARD, the most unhealthy fat around is 100% saturated fats. Coconut oil is 91% saturated fat, so it is more than 90% as bad as just plain using Lard”
The saturated fats in coconut are not 100% of the Medium-Chain variety [MCT]. Assuming that the MCTs are not harmful—a false assumption—even though this is what all the pro-coconut groups claim–, if you examine the fatty acid profile of the coconut oil, you will find that about 70% of it is from a MCTs with small contributions from mono and polyunsaturates.
What does this mean? It means that of the fat in coconuts (and coconut oil), 30% of it is the same artery-clogging long-chain saturated fats found in red meat and butter. In other words, even if you believe the false information disseminated by the coconut crowd, there is no way around the fact that a full 30% of the stuff is artery-clogging garbage, more than 2x as much as olive oil and 4x as much as canola oil. And all of the oils, irrespective of saturated fat content, represent little more than empty calories that none of us need consume.
- Canola oil – 7% saturated fat.
- Olive oil – 14% saturated fat.
- Coconut oil – 92% saturated fat.
- Coconut oil – 30% saturated fat. [subtracting the MCTs]
Culinary Nutritionist Andrea Canada discusses the fat content of coconut oil and how it differs from other fats and oils.
Coconut oil has been receiving some attention lately and with all the hype, people are asking me whether it’s a healthier alternative to butter or other oils. Generally, plant-based oils are primarily unsaturated fats and liquid at room temperature. However, coconut oil is an exception to this rule because while plant-based, it actually contains a high percentage of saturated fat (higher even than butter), and similar to other saturated fats, is solid at room temperature.
As it turns out, all saturated fats may not be created equal. We’ve been taught that saturated fat increases one’s bad cholesterol while doing very little for one’s good cholesterol. However, it’s been noted that the particular chemical structure of the saturated fat in coconut oil (more medium chain triglycerides) helps to increase your good cholesterol more than other kinds of saturated fat. So it’s perhaps for this reason that people are starting to think that coconut oil is a healthier alternative to butter or other saturated fats.
There is a place for coconut oil in our diet. For example, as a plant-based fat that is solid at room temperature, coconut oil has been used as an alternative to butter in vegan baking. In addition, coconut-based products can add delicious flavor to a dish. However, it is too soon to assess how coconut oil compares health-wise with other fats and oils. More research over longer periods of time needs to be done before a general consensus is reached. And, it is certainly unlikely that using coconut oil in place of unsaturated oils is beneficial to our health.
Until we know more, my recommendation would be to avoid the use of coconut oil unless it’s truly necessary. In the context of using coconut oil versus olive oil in cooking (or other heart-healthy oils for that matter), stick with what we know to be the healthiest cooking oils until more research has been done.
Here’s the thing: There are not healthy cooking oils! All oils are 120 calories per tablespoon and so low in nutrients, they can’t even be deemed nutrient poor foods. As you may know, nutrient poor foods are foods of animal origin, which are practically “nutrient rich” when compared to oils, which are “nutrient barren”, including coconut oil that comes from coconuts that deliver one of the few saturated fats from plant, right next to palm oil. Refined foods are nutrient barren.
As a Nutrition Education Trainer, committed to nutritional excellence, I have learned that you do not want want coconut oil, you’ll want to eat the coconut, albeit in small amounts as part of a more plant based, high nutrient density or nutrient rich healthy eating style. In the same way, you don’t want flax oil, you want the whole flax seed. You don’t want walnut oil, you want the walnuts… the same with almond oil, hemp seed oil etc.
Just because an oil comes from plants doesn’t mean diddly in terms of maintaining your health or your weight, unless you are into maintaining an unhealthy weight. You will get the oil in far less concentrated quantities with all of the phytonutrients that come packaged with it in the whole food, when you eat the nut or seed, not the oil itself.
Here’s is the language we are looking for…
Virgin coconut oil is sometimes described as having incredible and near-miraculous health benefits as a nutritional supplement. Some of these exaggerated claims are made by manufacturers or by websites that sell the coconut oil which is clearly a conflict of interest.
Does coconut oil have any real benefits for health?
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of mature coconuts harvested from the coconut palm. There are several methods for extracting the oil and they produce oils with different characteristics. In the traditional method, the coconut kernel is shredded, mixed with a little water, and then squeezed to extract an emulsion called coconut cream or coconut milk. The coconut milk is then allowed to separate naturally, and the oil rises to the surface.
In the dry process, shredded coconut is dried in the sun or in an oven and the oil is extracted by pressing. The dried coconut kernel is called “copra”, and coconut oil is sometimes called copra oil. Virgin coconut oil is defined as coconut oil obtained by mechanical or natural means with or without the application of heat, which does not lead to alteration of the oil. Coconut oil prepared by cold pressing preserves polyphenols and other biologically active components that may be degraded by heat.
Coconut oil is used in foods, medicines, cosmetics, and industrial applications. In some Asian countries, coconut oil is used for cooking and frying, and coconut milk is used as an ingredient in curry recipes. Coconut oil is resistant to rancidity and its use increased as a replacement for hydrogenated fats when manufacturers were required to report trans fats in nutrition labels.
Chemically, coconut oil is a mixture of triglycerides (compounds made of glycerol and fatty acids) with carbon chains of 8 to 18 atoms. Over ninety percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated, which means that they cannot oxidize and become rancid. Approximately 60% of coconut oil consists of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) with fatty acids of 6 to 12 carbon atoms. The only unsaturated fatty acids in coconut oil are oleic acid and linoleic acid which comprise only 8 percent of the total fatty acids. The typical fatty acid composition of coconut oil is given in the following table.
Caprylic Acid (C8:0) 8%
Capric Acid (C10:0) 6%
Lauric Acid (C12:0) 47%
Myristic Acid (C14:0) 18%
Palmitic Acid (C16:0) 9%
Stearic Acid (C18:0) 3%
Oleic Acid (C18:1) 6%
Linoleic Acid (C18:2) 2%
The health claims for coconut oil are based on the properties of some of the fatty acid components. Medium-chain triglycerides are absorbed directly from the gastrointestinal system and consumption of MCTs has been shown to increase energy expenditure and lead to greater losses of the adipose tissue in animals and humans. Lauric acid is also found in human milk (6.2% of total fat) and it has antibacterial and antiviral activity[2,3].
Something that is less frequently mentioned about coconut oil is that its high content of myristic acid increases cholesterol strongly and the palmitic acid also increases cholesterol.[4,5] Even though coconut oil itself does not contain cholesterol because it is a vegetable product, its fatty acids produce a significant cholesterolemic response in the body.
One tablespoon of coconut oil (about 14 grams) provides 13.2 grams of saturated fat which is 65% of the Recommended Daily Allowance. This makes it difficult to add other sources of healthier dietary fats without exceeding the saturated fat allowance. Unfortunately, it is not possible to separate the fatty acids with potential beneficial effects from the ones that increase cholesterol.
Coconut oil may not be a good dietary fat, but when used as a skin moisturizer, it is as effective and safe as mineral oil. In addition, applied topically as a cream or lotion, coconut oil has antimicrobial properties against yeast infections such as Candida, and antifungal properties against Trichophyton which is the fungus that causes tinea fungal infections like ringworm, athlete’s foot and jock itch. The antifungal properties of coconut oil may be due to its content of medium chain fatty acids such as capric acid.
Here’s the bottom line;
 M-P. St-Onge, P.J.H. Jones, “Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue”, International Journal of Obesity 27: 1565–1571 (2003).  Hornung B, Amtmann E, Sauer G., “Lauric acid inhibits the maturation of vesicular stomatitis virus”, J Gen Virol. 1994 Feb;75 (Pt 2):353-61. PMID: 8113756  Nakatsuji T, Kao MC, Fang JY, Zouboulis CC, Zhang L, Gallo RL, Huang CM., “Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris”, J Invest Dermatol. 2009 Oct;129(10):2480-8. Epub 2009 Apr 23. PMID: 19387482  Hegsted DM, McGandy RB, Myers ML, Stare FJ, Quantitative effects of dietary fat on serum cholesterol in man. Am J Clin Nutr. 1965 Nov; 17(5):281-95.  Martijti B Katan, Peter L Zock, and Ronald P Mensink, Effects of fats and fatty acids on blood lipids in humans: an overview, Am J Cli. Nutr., 1994;60(suppl):1017S-1022S.  Agero AL, Verallo-Rowell VM (September 2004). “A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis”. Dermatitis 15 (3): 109–16. PMID 15724344.  Ogbolu DO, Oni AA, Daini OA, Oloko AP., In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria, J Med Food. 2007 Jun;10(2):384-7.  Garg AP, Müller J., Inhibition of growth of dermatophytes by Indian hair oils, Mycoses. 1992 Nov-Dec;35(11-12):363-9.  Chadeganipour M, Haims A., Antifungal activities of pelargonic and capric acid on Microsporum gypseum, Mycoses. 2001 May;44(3-4):109-12.
Oil is a processed food with its fiber and most phytonutrients removed. You may from time to time, eat a little coconut oil for one reason or another, or even eat some olive oil for that matter. But the key is to Eat Whole foods; almonds, not almond oil, flax seeds, not flax oil, coconut, not coconut oil, olives, not olive oil.
Dr. Fuhrman – He has stated many times: “The question focusing on the mild relative differences between one type of saturated fat and another is wrong in the asking to begin with.”