Did you know coconut oil does NOT have a high smoke point? Did you know that there is little scientific evidence to support its weight loss claims?

If there is one food product that has exploded onto the health food scene over the last 12 months, it’s coconut oil. Added to chocolate bars, pour it on your cereal, eat it with a spoon, or pour it on your salads. I’ve seen claims by health food companies that it will burn fat and help you to drop weight fast, reduce inflammation, make you happier, and cure arthritis. A big part of the coconut oil explosion can be put down to the point in time when super gorgeous, super healthy supermodel (I won’t mention names) announced that she had been eating it since she was a teenager, and has teaspoons of it every day to keep her healthy. Now, who wouldn’t have a desire to look like a supermodel? Coconut oil also exploded as a health food when a study proved weight loss in a group of overweight women who began to consume coconut oil on a regular basis. Health food companies jumped on this study reporting coconut oil as the answer to losing weight, though when you look deeper at the study you will find that the study was performed on a very small sample size of only 30 women in South America who had been eating a very unhealthy diet to start with. At the same time as introducing coconut oil, the women were also required to exercise every day which they had not been doing before and even the author of the study notes that the weight loss may not in fact be a result of the consumption of coconut oil but could be due to a  number of factors such as exercise or eating healthier in general.

Let’s clear up some misconceptions

You probably know that there are two types of fats – saturated and unsaturated. Recent evidence has now shown that saturated fat may not be as harmful to our heart as once thought, but this does not change the fact that coconut oil is still a fat. There is a large amount of very strong evidence to show that diets high in fat do contribute to weight gain and heart disease.

Some exciting information emerged that the fat in coconut oil is in fact a form of GOOD saturated fat called Medium Chain Tryglycerides (let’s call them MCT’s) and this is in fact true. MCT’s are fat molecules joined together in a chain, shorter in length than the other saturated fat called Long Chain Triglycerides (LCT’s)

MCT’s are more readily absorbed by our body, easier to break down, and more quickly used for energy.

The wellness industry  jumped on this, claiming that this makes coconut oil a ‘wonder food’. But despite the clever marketing, there is there is not a lot of evidence to show that either the MCT’s in coconut oil can prevent heart disease or are in fact good for us. Many of the studies are on rats, in which case the results of the studies can’t be applied to humans. Other studies haven’t studied coconut oil as such, but a MCT manufactured in the laboratory. There is however, a strong amount of evidence from human studies, to show that a diet containing monounsaturated oils (such as those found in nuts and olive oil for example) and polyunsaturated oils from oily fish, carry many health benefits such as protecting against heart disease, assisting brain function and promoting healthy skin and nails.

Coconut oil is comprised of 96% saturated fat, providing extremely little of the heart healthy mono and polyunsaturated oils. On the other hand oils such as olive oil, fish oil, avocado oil and macadamia oil to name a few, contain high amounts of these healthful compounds and much lower levels of saturated fats.

Mono and polyunsaturated oils also contain high levels of antioxidants, of which are not found in coconut oil.

But saturated fat is now good for  us right? 

Well, no. The main stream media jumped on the large meta analysis which showed that saturated fats may not contribute as directly to heart disease as we had once thought, but this by no means that it is good for us. It just means it isn’t as bad for us as once thought and that’s very different. Fat contains the highest number of calories of any macro nutrient, and if you eat above the number of calories above that which your body requires, this will lead to weight gain. Weight gain is definitively a cause of chronic disease such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and some cancers. So if you are making desserts with coconut oil, or lathering it on your baked potatoes and this tips you over your calorie requirements for the day, it will be stored as fat.

Coconut oil advocates also claim that it holds anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory powers, but so does garlic, onion, honey and ginger. Going back to the supermodel, she follows a mostly vegetarian diet, containing little fat, sugar or processed foods and as such her diet is also low in kilojoules. On top of this, she does a load of exercise so for her, a few tablespoons of coconut oil a day will not be putting her above her daily intake of kilojoules that she requires. Remember, that fats contain the most kilojoules of all macronutrients, more than carbohydrates and proteins. If you eat above what your body requires in kilojoules, this will be stored as fat. So if you are already eating your fair share of food, the addition of coconut oil will only put you above your kilojoule requirements and lead to weight gain, which negates any of the proposed benefits of the good fats in the coconut oil anyway!

The most important thing – coconut oil does NOT contain less kilojoules or total fat than any other fat or oil out there. 

 

Coconut oil calories
This graphic is a simple visual of the caloric density of coconut oil. It is not indicating that a Milky Way is a healthier food, or a better option. It is showing a caloric comparison in order to show that it’s an ingredient to consume in moderation

Smoke Point Myth

Coconut oil advocated claim that the oil is the best to use when cooking at high temperatures as it has a high smoke point (meaning you can heat it to a higher temperature before the chemical structure of the oil will become damaged and potentially produce carcinogens). To clear this point for all, it is only the refined coconut oil with added stabilisers (the least popular product on the market) which has a high smoke point. The popular virgin cold pressed coconut oil in fact has a low smoke point when compared with many other oils (even lower than virgin olive oil) and shouldn’t be heated to high temperatures. If wanting to choose an oil with a high smoke point, look for avocado, macadamia or a lighter olive oil.

The Nutrition Guru’s Verdict

  • Coconut oil is high in fat and calories and like anything, should be eaten in moderation. 
  • When I consume oils, I prefer them to be mostly mono and polyunsaturated oils which have wide-spread proven health benefits.
  •  We use coconut oil! But we are not under the illusion that it’s a superfood with superpowers. It’s an oil.
  • When using oil, I prefer to  use one with proven positive health benefits such as those listed above which are also much cheaper than coconut oil
  • If you wish to use coconut oil for it’s delicious flavour, like anything, use in moderation and look for recipes that contain small amounts. Many of the recipes online using coconut oil in raw desserts contain more calories than a Big Mac hamburger
  • It makes a great hair and skin moisturiser free from nasties. I use it to tame my curly hair
  • The various health claims about coconut oil are largely not supported by peer-reviewed, credible scientific evidence. More research is needed before we call it a superfood  or cure-all. It is not all that it is MARKETED to be. What I can’t agree with is the marketing and hype that coconut oil has suddenly recieved and the false advertising as a ‘weight loss’ product
  • The high smoke point used to market coconut oil only refers to the version that has been refined and has had stabilisers added, not the popular ‘cold pressed’ coconut oil which has a low smoke point.
  • Look for the virgin cold pressed oil which is less refined. .
  • As part of a balanced diet a  little coconut oil is ok. Just don’t go  nuts on it. Everything in moderation is the key!

The Nutrition Guru

The Nutrition Guru is a university qualified Nutritionist, keen cook and new mum. She cares passionately about advocating for holistic health and providing credible, up to date nutrition information to help people live a happy and healthy life. 

 

 

 

55 thoughts on “The Truth about Coconut Oil

  1. Imelda Evans says:

    As always, you are both informed and balanced – the opposite of the ‘snake oil’ merchants. I understand that we all want a magic cure-all, but as someone who has spent pretty much my whole life (longer than yours, I think!) trying this and that as each new fad came out, in the hope of magic, I long ago came to the conclusion that there are no magic bullets and very few short cuts. Healthy comes from a diet high in minimally processed foods, which you cook yourself (as eating out, sadly, is seldom as healthy as one would like, delicious though it is), getting some exercise that you enjoy and a little of what you fancy from time to time. It won’t make you thin overnight (sadly), but it will prevent yo-yo-ing (which is actually worse for your health) and it will serve you better than jumping on the latest nutritional bandwagon, only to have to get off again when the next one comes along. (If anyone doubts that they are bandwagons, one only needs to look at the health repuation of the humble egg. Since my childhood it’s been in and out of fashion more often than long boots.) Keep it up guru, we need the voice of reason!

  2. rhiby says:

    But the beauty about saturated, even long-chain saturated, is the fact that it is a lot more stable – it does not (easily) oxidise or go rancid unlike the polyunsaturates. Oxidised fats are what causes the damage to our insides – it is like pouring free radicals down your throat. And I am one nutritionist that would advocate coconut oil over flaxseed! (but definitely not coconut as the cure-all) I say everything in moderation 🙂

    • thenutritionguruandthechef says:

      Defo Rhiby! I suppose the purpose of the article was more to inform people that it isn’t something you can chug down gallons of and it’s all ok (which I’ve even witnessed many overweight people doing thinking it’s the answer to their weight loss journet and that makes me angry on behalf of them) and I just can’t agree with the marketing of it that companies have been pushing onto consumers. Everything in moderation is definately the key (except for when it comes to my hair and in that case the whole bottle is ok haha!)

      • Imelda Evans says:

        Good to get another view! Rhiby, I would like to add that I don’t think the excitement about coconut oil is entirely unwarranted, I just object to how people glom onto every new discovery as though it holds all the answers for everything. I’m always open to learning about new things that can help health, but I object to having it shoved down my throat as a cure-all (or poison, depending on the finding). Not suggesting you’re doing that! Not at all. Just having seen so many of these things come and go the hysteria gets wearying. Good to know about the stability factor.

    • missandmisters says:

      Thanks for adding this comment rhiby! This is one of the reasons we use coconut oil more than some others. Although, it can be hard to decipher all the mixed messages on different oils out there, so thanks for a bundle for this article Guru+Chef! As with everything, it’s all about moderation, right? X

      • thenutritionguruandthechef says:

        Thanks for your comment! Absolutely, everything in moderation! We use coconut oil, but we also have the understanding that it isn’t going to solve all of life’s problems and we also see through the marketing hype of coconut oil. It does have a delish flavour and great for using if cooking at high temperatures. A little bit every so often is okey dokey!

  3. Jodie Barras says:

    many many thanks for taking the time to write this. You have answered all my questions in a langue that I understand. Also enjoyed reading the comments, which again says, healthy eating all in moderation and exercise

    • thenutritionguruandthechef says:

      Thanks for dropping by with a comment Jodie! It is a complex science, difficult to wrap up in a single article. Glad that it was able to answer all your questions! You are so right, healthy eating all in moderation AND exercise!

  4. Veggie Mama says:

    I LOVE THIS! Thank you so much. I do use coconut oil, but I have not a great deal of saturated fat elsewhere in my diet. oils are so confusing though. I heard rice bran was good, then I heard it was bad. Canola was good, then bad. I still don’t know who to believe!

    • Talisha says:

      I agree about it not being a new or reinvented superfood. I use it however for hair and body. I love it for our naturally curly hair. It works wonders to detangle and is very good as a hair and skin moisturizer. I will not buy regular lotion again! And as far as a hair product it is 100% pure!

    • thenutritionguruandthechef says:

      That’s exactly right Veggie Mama! It’s all relative to the overall eating pattern of a person, and if there is little to no sat. fat then a smidgen of coconut oil here and there is fine.

      Oils are really confusing, there’s so much new information coming out. The trick is to make sure that the source of your information about an oil is reputable with no hidden agenda. Rice bran is very good, it has a really healthy fatty acid profile and has a very high smoke point so perfect for cooking with. Olive oil is the most wonderful for our health, but better served on salads, that is – not heated, as it has a lower burining point and becomes damaged when heated. Everything in moderation and you shall be fine!

      • Kevin Cohen says:

        Good blog, thanks for some great information. Interested to know why you would suggest heated olive oil “in moderation”? The fat is oxidised making it toxic. Dont heat any PUFAs. MCT oil is amazing, highly recommended.

        • thenutritionguruandthechef says:

          Hi Kevin, thanks for a great question. This blog post really was touching only the tip of a very large iceburg, and maybe readers would benefit from a whole article on olive oil! Your correct, olive oil should t really be heated, though for some people that may have heart disease or a high risk of heart disease ( the number one killer in Australia) the risk of death for them from consuming the 50% of bad Mct’s in the coconut oil is far greater than their risk of developing cancer from rancid poly or monounsaturates. Likewise, a person with a stong family history of cancer may be more interested in steering clear of hearet damaged oils due to their high risk than fhe damaging saturated fats and their effect on their heart. So, it’s all ver relative to the person and their circumstances. The other thing is, many people don’t have the money to spend on coconut oil for every day use, with olive or rice bran a much cheaper choice.

  5. Cindy says:

    Reading this, I’m glad I haven’t started ingesting large amounts of coconut oil daily. Some have sung its praises so loudly it has made me suspicious. I wondered if it really was the miraculous substance it has been reported to be. Thanks for posting.

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  7. MeganLeaneDietitian says:

    Thank you so much for this! Working in a health food store it infuriates me so much when my customers refuse to believe the facts I present them regarding the fatty acid profile of coconut oil. I think we’re in a tough industry with all of the “pop” nutrition advice coming from sources who may not have the most comprehensive training or understanding of nutrition themselves.

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  11. Felicite says:

    I have been using it for 2 years, I guess as a vegetarian I am at no risk like you state. However it has been fantastic on my skin, hair and overall health and well being. I give it to my dog and use it on a variety if ailments, with remarkable results! I am sold! One if the best products I have ever used, so much so, I no longer use expensive facial products and my skin at 44 looks clear, bright and simply fantastic. Please do more research on this product, as I am personally amazed at the results!

    • thenutritionguruandthechef says:

      Hi Felicite, thanks for your comment!

      I also use it on my hair and couldn’t live without it as I have crazy frizzy locks!

      As a vegetarian, it is a wonderful product for you. The post was more aimed at the majority of the population who eat far too much meat and saturated fat, and are unsure of the science behind the oil and have made decisions to use it to lose weight.

      The article was written using my scientific knowledge fron 4 years of studying food science at university. It’s great to hear your feedback on using coconut oil. Everything in moderation is the key and looks like you have found the product which definately works for you!

  12. Wilson says:

    Would you please also explain what are linoleic and alpha-linoleic acids and their pros/cons healthwise?

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  14. Lilly says:

    an you go into more detail on using the coconut oil in your hair please? Have you noticed a difference? How do you apply it? Straight from the bottle?

  15. asme.berkeley.edu says:

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  16. Becky says:

    Loved reading this, very informative and not one sided which a lot of them can be.. I do use coconut oil for some of my cooking, and as a moisturiser and as a hair oil too.. I was only saying to my hubby the other day I know its the new “in thing” and yes it does have some great benefits but still very high in sat fats, we do eat some meat but not a lot therefore I dont mind using the oil and I feel a little bit goes a long way. But in saying that I feel a balance of all the oils I choose is mine and my familys best option, avo, coconut, olive, butter, macadamia, rice bran etc. But Im a little lost at what oil you would reccomend for every day cooking with?? I always used olive, then replaced some of that with coconut or butter or well just depends on the dish but now with so much yes this oil is good no now its not well Im just confused.. ha ha ha.. Would love some suggestions.. Thanks

    • Kevin Cohen says:

      Dont heat any oil except refined (heatsafe) Coconut and MCT oil or Ghee.
      Also no need to limit your meat if you stick to grass fed.

  17. Pur Essence says:

    My brother suggested I would possibly like this website.
    He used to be totally right. This post truly made my day. You can not believe simply how so much time I had spent for
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  18. Vicky says:

    Great article! I’ve been looking for some unbiased information on coconut oil, I’ve just recently found your blog and am hooked!!!

  19. KAREN says:

    Even though I dont believe cocunut oil is a cure all…i believe it much more delicious than butter in cereal and believe that it is a good healthy fat source. Like any fats i try not to go overboard. Your article is well informed on many points.

    I However, I REALLY OBJECT to you saying that no doctor, nutritionist, dietician , etc would have anything positive to say about this food item….these professionals are trained conventionally to sell products for the drug companies, meat and dairy industries. Coconut oil doesn’t fit any of them. In addition, Most doctors do not receive much training in nutrition, so how would the vast majority of them have an knowledgeable opinion on the subject.

    • The Enz says:

      Great reply. Useing the food pyramid that is the basis for Nutritional training is ridiculous. Look at the health of people now will tell you how wrong Doctors, nutritionists, AHF, NDA, etc have been in their rationale.

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  21. Henrietta says:

    Hello! I follow you on Instagram and really enjoyed reading this. I really want to start baking gluten, dairy and refined sugar free cakes, tarts etc. When it comes to the oil I should be using though (instead of dairy butter) I get really confused. I come from here and all the nutritionists here are saying cook with coconut oil but then I read ‘healthy’ baking books and come cook with sunflower oil too, as well as olive oil. I’m from the UK and we also have rapeseed oil which people say is very nutritious and also good for cooking as it has a high smokepoint. Limiting my baking to only coconut oil would be boring and inaccessible for people who don’t like the taste of it, so would using sunflower oil, olive oil. grapeseed oil and rapeseed oil for baking (I won’t go higher than 160oC-170oC MAX) along with coconut oil be OK? PLEASE HELP! THANK YOU SO MUCH FROM THE UK!

    • The Nutrition Guru and The Chef says:

      You can use any oil you wish. They are all an oil and should be used in moderation 🙂

  22. Aimee and Clint says:

    Hey guys, great read! We used to be all about the coconut and then started thinking “hang on, are we descendants of islanders? Er, no. So maybe we don’t do so well on so much coconut” and started reading more about it. Your take on it is really great, and it’ll be a good eye opener for those who see “coconut oil is so great!” messages all over social media and will maybe stop taking all that as gospel and will learn more about it. We’ll definitely share this with our Sunshine Coast Paleo/Primal/Real Food Meetup Group members 🙂

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  24. Sutan Ferdian Tmk says:

    Hi i am from Sumatra but grown up around the globe mostly in Europe but now totally back in Sumatra.

    Today people would easily believe what so called expert says on the internet.

    But i dislike how you compare a coconut oil with industrial unnatural food like macdonalds burger (god, i am thankful for living in this paradise without junkfood and any other artificial food, frozen, etc..) and stuff.

    And please be assure that coconut oil isn’t the same as the virgin coconut oil.

    Coconut oil is indeed not as good as VCO but way much better than crude palm oil used in fast food, etc.. Yes i was born here, and now back here in Sumatra, i know exactly our diet.

    Coconut oil might be bad for some and could be the enemy for health but Virgin Coconut oil is another way around is the cure for almost every health problem from heart disease, diabetic, eczeem, even treating alzheimer to hiv/aids, etc..

    The processing is seperating them both as virgin coconut oil extraction requires no high temperature cooking unlike regular coconut oil which is cooked with high temperature.

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  26. Mishty says:

    Fantastic article! It’s great to hear that I always logically thought when I heard people going on about it.
    I’m a little confused about one point – if I need to use butter in a recipe, would I be better off replacing butter with coconut oil? Or are they roughly on par?

    • The Nutrition Guru and The Chef says:

      You don’t need to be concerned which is ‘better’ they are both a fat. Which ever you can afford, or you have handy

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  28. Marcelo Arevalo A says:

    What a great article! Thanks for sharing it! It’s really great to find and read an impartial article about coconut oil, most information on the web is always on favor or against it. I would love to read more about it. Would you mind sending me an e-mail with the 80 journal articles that you used for this article? Or maybe just post them in a comment. I’d really appreciate it! Thanks for all your great work! Have a nice day!

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