Is coconut oil healthy or harmful?
I’ll start with the punchline: I feel very comfortable enjoying coconut oil – in moderation.
I wouldn’t want to consume large amounts daily, but I also wouldn’t completely shun any food that contains it, or go out of my way to add it to my diet.
Here are three reasons underlying my caution – and that of experts like the American Heart Association:
Compared to polyunsaturated plant oils, coconut oil raises levels of LDL “bad cholesterol”, which is a strong predictor of heart health.
Coconut oil is loaded with saturated fats to the tune of 80-90%. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats is a big win for heart health.
Coconut oil does have a few good things going for it.
It raises “good” HDL cholesterol.
It contains MCTs (medium chain trigylcerides), which may be more favourable than the LCT (long chain triglycerides) abundant in most animal products. They are metabolized quickly in your liver.
Yet, it would be a mistake to equate MCT oil with coconut oil as these fats are just part of the mix:
~12% of the total fats are clearly medium chain (length 8-10 carbons) = MCTs
~30% are long (length 14-18 carbons) = LCTs
~50% are intermediate length (12 carbons = lauric acid). This fat can be metabolized either as an MCTs or an LCT.
~8% are unsaturated fats.
Caveat: The strength of the evidence around coconut oil and health is weak to moderate (small studies, short term, imperfectly controlled). I’m taking a cautious stance
Last but not least, I should mention that the fat profile of virgin and refined coconut oil (aka copra oil) are not notably different. They do, however, differ in micronutrients.
If you’re looking for black and white answers, sorry, but you’re in the wrong place!