Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mainstream Finally Getting a F*cking Clue? Coconut Edition

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times: Coconut Oil Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Coconut Oil In the News.

The New York Times just ran an article called "Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World"

I have to admit, I'm a bit surprised that the mainstream media and health authorities are starting to catch on (a little bit) about how fats actually effect our health. This article is pretty good overall, considering the current nutritional climate in our country.

The article starts out with some knee-jerk saturated fat bashing:
"[C]oconut oil was supposed to be the devil himself in liquid form, with more poisonous artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising, heart-attack-causing saturated fat than butter, lard or beef tallow."
I think this shows how bad things still are in conventional nutrition knowledge; this is probably what the average person believes. Apparently the American Dietetic Association and Federal Government are still on this page, despite a complete lack of evidence. Maybe they're hiding it?

At least some people are catching on. According to Whole Foods' senior grocery coordinator, Errol Schweizer,
"Annual sales growth at Whole Foods “has been in the high double digits for the last five years"
Must be why the damn prices have gone up on my 5 gallon containers of coconut oil! Grow more palm trees. Anyway, why did people get the idea that coconut oil is bad stuff?

“Most of the studies involving coconut oil were done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which researchers used because they needed to raise the cholesterol levels of their rabbits in order to collect certain data,”
So they hydrogenated it... Then gave it to an obligate herbivore, the rabbits, who would never naturally have coconut oil in the diet... Wow. No shit it looked bad on paper! Just as a refresher, rabbits do not have an omnivorous digestive capability- and unlike humans, they did not evolve eating a high-fat diet. 

Next up: the American Dietetic Association and Dietary Guidelines for Americans show exactly why their own advice has been making people sick and obese:

"Marisa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, a nonprofit association of nutritionists, said, “Different types of saturated fats behave differently.”
The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Lauric acid increases levels of good HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, and bad LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, in the blood, but is not thought to negatively affect the overall ratio of the two.
She went on to say that while it is still uncertain whether coconut oil is actively beneficial the way olive oil is, small amounts probably are not harmful. The new federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of total dietary calories a day come from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 20 grams."
If someone said this to me, it would probably start a fist fight. And I would kick their ass because they would be obese and inflamed from all the vegetable oil and grains they've been eating. Take advice from the ADA and Federal Government at your own risk... I would say that coconut oil is safer than olive oil in that is much more stable at high-temperatures (resists oxidation), and that it has negligible amounts of dangerous omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  

Coconut Oil: The Evidence

  1. Health: First off, some observational evidence that coconut oil is not harmful: Several indigenous cultures that are completely free of modern disease eat a large percentage of their calories from coconut oil. These include the Tokelau Islanders, who obtain about 50% of calories from coconut oil [1], and the Kitavans at about 21% of calories from coconut oil [2].

  2. Health: Coconut Oil is about 92% saturated fat. This is a good thing; it doesn't go rancid, oxidize, and contains very few of the poisonous omega-6 PUFA's.

  3. Fat Loss: Coconut Oil is primarily "medium-chain triglycerides". These fatty acids are preferentially metabolized in the liver in to ketones and burned for energy in the brain, muscle, and other tissues instead of being stored as fat. Remember though, if you significantly overeat coconut oil it still gets stored as fat.

  4. Fat Loss: Studies show that consuming coconut oil leads to lower levels of body fat than other oils [3].

  5. Cancer: Coconut Oil produces far less cancer than industrial seed oils (vegetable oils) in animal experiments [4,5]. This is probably due to the drastically lower levels of omega-6 PUFA in coconut oil. 
The Bottom Line
Overall, there is very little research using unrefined coconut oil in humans. The small amount of clinical research seems to show benefits that are congruent with what we see in epidemiological research from healthy indigenous cultures like the Tokelau Islanders and Kitavans. 

I believe unrefined coconut oil is safe and has potential benefits as part of a healthy diet. 

For some more resources on coconut oil, I highly recommend: 


  1. Hi Tyler, I really do think the media is catching on (yawn) after all of us have been reaping the benefits of coconut oil, for like 10 YEARS or so? You sure can't wait for the media to get a clue can you? Ha ha. I saw Dr. Oz shilling for coconut oil on his show recently. The funny thing about it is that they put a plug for it but they won't admit that coconut oil is the dirty word - SATURATED FAT! Trying to ride the fence all the way, aren't they? Thanks for sharing this article at Monday Mania this week! :)

  2. Very good article. I eat probably about 10-15 grams of coconut oil every day and I find that it is by far the best fat to cook with.

    It is strange how researchers can get away with something like feeding hydrogenated fats to herbivores like rabbits and then indicate that these results would apply to humans as well.

    I thought peer reviews were supposed to sort out nonsense like that.

  3. @Sarah-
    They really won't get off the fence, its almost comical how hard they try not to contradict themselves... I think we are dealing with some serious cognitive dissonance here.

    I love to cook with coconut oil, love to eat it with a spoon, love it in anything... delicious.
    And really, what happened to peer review? Its ridiculous that this would slide through as passable research. I guess that's why we have to read everything so carefully these days.

    Thanks for commenting guys.