Depending on who you believe, coconut oil is a nutritional miracle food or pure poison. Nearly 70% of Americans view coconut oil as a health food; only about 37% of nutritionists view it that way.

Coconut oil is 88% fat, most of which is saturated fat. However, the structure of fat in coconut oil differs from animal-derived fats and oils, which consist mainly of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) and linked to elevated cholesterol level. Instead, coconut oil contains a high level of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a form harder for the body to convert into stored fat and easier to burn-off than LCTs. Supporters of coconut oil attribute its benefits – from fighting inflammation to healing itchy skin and adding lustre to hair – to the high MCT content.

But…

Do not rush to replace other healthy oils (like Extra Virgin Olive Oil – EVOO) with coconut oil, which is not entirely composed of MCT’s. There’s still a lot of saturated fat in coconut oil, whereas several other oils have higher MCT profiles. Choose a high quality, minimally processed cold-pressed organic, Virgin Coconut Oil, which has different health effects than highly processed varieties that raise cholesterol levels (the label may indicate “bleached” “refined” or “deodorized”, aka- R.B.D.). Buy from a trusted vendor; the terms “virgin” and “extra virgin” are not regulated the way they are for EVOO.

Keep in mind that you don’t eat fat or antioxidant molecules. You eat food and it should come from a variety of healthy sources while less healthy options should be enjoyed in moderation. Until longer-term, large-scale research is done on the benefits of coconut oil, use it when necessary for preparing ethnic cuisine and in place of butter or shortening in baking, but don’t give up your EVOO.

Resources

Khaw, Kay-Tee et al. “Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women.” BMJ open (Mar. 2018) vol 6: 8,3 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020167. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/282857.php#benefits

Wallace, TC “Health Effects of Coconut Oil-A Narrative Review of Current Evidence.” J Am Coll Nutr. (2019 Feb) 38(2):97-107. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2018.1497562. Epub 2018 Nov 5.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30395784

Fortune.com “Ok Let’s Talk about Coconut Oil.” https://fortune.com/2018/08/24/is-coconut-oil-bad-for-you/

Rabin, RC & Egan, S. “Is Coconut Oil Good or Bad for You?” NY Times online. 21 Aug 2018: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/21/well/eat/coconut-oil-good-bad-health.html

Harvard Health Letter. “Ask the Doctor: Coconut Oil” https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/coconut-oil

Penn Medicine “How to Improve your Health and Beauty with Coconut Oil” https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2017/january/health-benefits-of-coconut-oil

Hsph.harvard.edu “The Nutrition Source: Coconut Oil” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/coconut-oil/