Is coconut oil unhealthy or healthy?
Coconut oil consists of mainly saturated fats. In the minds of some doctors and nutritionists it is still a prevalent belief that saturated fats are unhealthy. It is nothing more than an ancient belief though, because there is no relevant evidence to support that belief. This belief that saturated fats „clog“ the arteries stems from the 1950’s when Ancel Keys developed the diet-heart hypothesis, which was based on weak observational studies, and postulated that animal fats/saturated fats lead to heart disease.
When independent researchers looked at some of the data of those early studies (including the Framingham Heart Study), it was found out that the conclusion that were drawn were simply wrong. The data does not suggest that saturated fats lead to heart disease. In fact, the data indicates pretty much the opposite.
Dr. George Mann, who was a lead investigator in the Framingham Study itself, did not agree with the dogmatic conclusions and the resulting „Dietary Guidelines of the United States“, which were published in 1977 and concluded that a low-fat diet is best for health. Right after publication of these low-fat guidelines Dr. Mann called the diet-heart hypothesis „the greatest scam in the history of medicine“ in an editorial of the New England Journal of Medicine. Now, 40 years later, it seems he was right.
In the last 15 years many randomised controlled trials have been done, which enlightened our understanding of heart disease even more and it showed : The fat hypothesis of heart disease is simply not true. Saturated fat does not clog the arteries. What we know now about the diet-heart connection is :
- Heart Disease is at its root an inflammatory condition (no inflammation / no heart disease)
- Saturated fats alone do not negatively contribute to heart disease
- High cholesterol levels are not bad. High levels are rather good for overall health
- Processed fats (trans fats) are the worst thing for heart health
With the current scientific situation in mind, coconut oil is a rather beneficial food. It is high in saturated fats and has anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to the mechanistic evidence of the benefits of saturated fats for the hormonal situation, as anti-inflammatory agents, and as nervous system support, the anecdotal evidence and personal experience supports a beneficial property of coconut oil as well. Is it a superfood? No.
But what reasons could someone have to say coconut oil is a bad or „pure poison”? In my eyes there could be four main reasons. Either one is just not well-versed in the history and current scientific understanding of the diet-heart hypothesis and still thinks heart disease is caused by saturated fats, or one has biased industrial interests, or one might have the concerns that non-regional products cannot be good for us long-term (I share that proposition), or one just wants to be anti to get some recognition.
Fine with me. I will have my coconut oil.
May the FLOW be with you all brothers and sisters!
Gerrit Keferstein is a Medical Doctor specialised in Performance & Functional Medicine. He is most known for his work on the optimisation of recovery and adaptation in elite athletes.