Coconut oil may pose a serious health risk for people on a low-fat, plant-based diet.
Yes, that means most of our tribe.
If you’re a vegetarian that fits the description above, adding coconut oil can increase inflammation and decrease blood vessel flow, which can cause serious damage.
There are zero omega-3 fats, the essential fats people actually need.
I know this goes against everything you may have heard about coconut oil, and therefore not an easy pill to swallow.
Personally, I was one of many who got sold on coconut oil being a healthy food to eat and cook with as a “vegan supplement.”
It’s so popular, they even sell coconut oil for dogs. Many of the health and fitness websites I trust have advocated its use.
This goes to show how difficult it can be to know the difference between hype powered by industry (money), experts regurgitating what the last expert said, and actual good advice.
This reminds me to stay on my toes about what I advocate and write about.
“But, for now, I’d use coconut oil sparingly. Most of the research so far has consisted of short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. We don’t really know how coconut oil affects heart disease. And I don’t think coconut oil is as healthful as vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL.” —Harvard Health Letter
Coconut Oil “Benefits” Are a Joke
For years now, coconut oil has been branded as the new superfood, a cure-all oil with health benefits ranging from:
- Fighting cancer
- Reducing heart disease
- Treating hyperthyroidism
- Promoting weight loss
- Antimicrobial properties (such as fighting viruses and bacteria, including HIV)
Are there any benefits to coconut oil?
This is what Forks Over Knives had to say on the subject in their article Is Coconut Oil Healthy or Hazardous?:
“Well, it is true that coconut oil contains some medium-chain fatty acids called MCFAs, which are less readily absorbed compared to longer-chain fatty acids. And these MCFAs have been shown to have less of an effect on LDL, bad cholesterol. But is that not similar to saying that burning your hand with a 300-degree flame has less of an effect on your skin than burning your hand with a 400-degree flame? Oil and fat are oil and fat.
That being said, we have read that MCFAs are absorbed directly into the liver, and as a result, have the potential [to promote] weight loss. Even if true—this was only theoretical in the study—this reductionist view misses the point that people don’t eat MCFAs. Rather, they eat coconut oil, and half the saturated fat in coconut oil is not MCFAs. At over 90% saturated fat, taking away the portion of MCFAs in coconut oil—which still requires us to make the huge assumption that MCFAs are all good and can’t be negated—then you are still left with 45% of the saturated fat. So even subtracting all of the theoretical goodness of MCFAs from the total saturated fat content, coconut oil is still worse than lard, which is only 43% saturated fat. And we all know that lard is not a health food.”
Also, we don’t eat foods because of their antimicrobial properties; therefore, consuming coconut oil for that reason is rather silly. Food doesn’t fight infection. Our immune system does. We eat foods for fuel and nutrients, which has the tendency to strengthen our immune system. This in turn fights microbes.
With that argument, we could recommend pounding Absolut Vodka as a health food because alcohol kills microbes.
What is coconut oil good for?
- Your skin
- Your hair
- Sparingly in your favorite plant-based recipes
Take Away Message
Consuming coconut oil the way that’s its marketed is very likely to be unhealthy, and at best, it’s nutty advice, says the University of Berkeley. And it seems most vegetarians have even greater risk to face. I’m still going to cook with it, but the days of taking a teaspoon of it with my protein drink for fat-burning results are over.