BY Erin Wyatt a Recent ASU Nutrition Student
Coconut oil has become the answer to what ails you. Dry hair? Put coconut oil on it! Have cellulite? Put coconut oil on it! Got a mosquito bite? Put coconut oil on that too! This magic oil has been filling blog posts and Pinterest boards over the past couple of years. The majority of its appeal lies in the declared health benefits of utilizing it during cooking and baking. Coconut oil attracts attention by stating that it boosts metabolism, aids in weight loss, and even reduces appetite. But is it as healthy as claimed?
The short answer is no. While some studies have proven that coconut oil does have some positive qualities, they are not conclusive.1 One study proved that coconut oil did reduce some abdominal fat, but it did not result in more weight loss overall.2 Also, these coconut oil experiments are basing conclusions off of the consumption of only 2 tablespoons a day, not pouring it on every meal. Most other positive conclusions from studies are focused on medium-chain fatty acids, which coconut oil has. However, they also have long fatty acid chains, which are associated with raising LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol. Often writers pick and choose which health information to convey to their readers, without disclosing all of the facts. This has been a common theme in the nutrition world, diet fads without scientific evidence. But I digress…
The bottom line is that coconut oil consists of mostly saturated fat. Saturated fat can lead to heart disease and should be limited in our diets. There have been many conclusive studies to prove the dangers of saturated fat. One way to tell if an item has saturated fat is that they are usually solid at room temperature, like butter or coconut oil. Having said this, the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand found that coconut oil is better compared to butter when it comes to cholesterol levels, but should not be considered a healthy oil.3 The same study concludes that unsaturated oils, such as olive oil, are the better choice when it comes to consumption, resulting in lower cholesterol than coconut oil.3
I believe that coconut oil is delicious and doesn’t necessarily need to be avoided, but we should consider it to be a treat, not an everyday occurrence. Particularly those people who have high blood cholesterol should limit their coconut oil intake. Restricting all saturated fats would be advised to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. The current research has only been done in short-term studies, and more needs to be conducted to learn about this unique oil. Until then, coconut oil could still be used in moderation, but feel free to slather as much as you want into your hair.
- The Mayo Clinic (2019). Coconut oil for weight loss: Does it work? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/coconut-oil-and-weight-loss/art-20450177
- Gunnars, K. (2017). How coconut oil can help you lose weight and belly fat. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/coconut-oil-and-weight-loss#section2
- Eyres, L., et al. (2016). Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutrition Review 74(4): 267-280. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4892314/