Is Coconut Oil Good for You?

Virgin coconut oil is a popular fad diet food - but is it good for you?

The other day, I was cooking dinner with a friend who is on the paleo diet. The diet tries to emulate that of our paleolithic ancestors by including fish, grass-fed or free-range meats, vegetables, nuts, fruits, vegetables and the like – but excludes grains, beans, dairy, salt, sugar and processed oils.

While critiquing the paleo diet is beyond the scope of this article, I was surprised when my friend wanted to cook our meal with coconut oil. Like any health conscious individual, I immediately looked at the nutrition information – and was surprised to see a saturated fat content that is 6x higher than that of heart-healthy olive oil. In fact, a single tablespoon of coconut oil has more than 60% of you daily value of saturated fat. That’s more saturated fat than butter.

So, if coconut oil has so much saturated fat, why has it become a popular fad diet food? Coconut oil supporters point to the health and longevity of tropical populations that have been cooking with and consuming large quantities of coconut oil for hundreds of years. These coconut oil advocates don’t think the nutrition information tells the whole story. And they may have a point. For example, some of the fats in coconut oil are known as MCTs (short for medium-chain triglycerides), and they are metabolized quickly by the liver and less likely to be stored as body fat.

But it really comes down to the facts. And, according to the Food and Drug Administration, consumers should avoid coconut oil. Though there is some evidence that coconut oil may have beneficial properties, these studies haven’t yet met the FDA’s standards. Some of the studies are not extensive enough or adequately controlled enough to be scientifically valid or conclusive.

Of course, all that could change as coconut oil gains popularity and is subjected to additional research. And, it’s worth noting, both sides agree that processed or partially hydrogenated coconut oil (as opposed to virgin coconut oil) is unhealthy. When coconut oil is hydrogenated, it becomes a trans fat – something all of us should avoid.

In the meantime, I’m sticking with olive oil for my fat consumption needs. Just be sure to keep olive oil under 405 degrees Fahrenheit and use within six months of opening.

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  1. When can I come and cook dinner with you too?

  2. Not sure I would hold the FDA out as the only authority on nutrition. The FDA is very sensitive to the political concerns of farmers and will often fund studies that come to a good political conclusion. A good example of this was the horrid nutrition pyramid that said people needed to eat five servings of grain a day. Why? Because it supported American farmers. I don’t know anything about coconut oil, but I know that politics plays a role in everything and just want people to know that simply because it comes from our government does not make it true or definitive.

  3. Mikel Turner says:

    Really? Davey, because the FDA says stay away from coconut oil, its not up to our standard, your going to inform your readers that it might not be good for you?
    I’m glad you point out “tropical populations that have been cooking with and consuming large quantities of coconut oil for hundreds of years”. And Coconut oil might be bad for you, but personally I would never us the FDA as a guide for anything. The FDA only looks out for big money corporations and not our best interested. Just search, FDA bans nuts and read some of the sites about how the FDA things Nuts should be labeled as Drugs. The FDA is a part of our government and can not be trusted as a viable source.

  4. Sergio Jara says:

    Totally agree with Mikel and Aaron.

  5. Seriously, wow, you dropped a lot in my opinion on this one. Because the FDa isn’t getting money off it you won’t support it? Better do more research before spreading this.

  6. Never, ever, EVER go by FDA “standards” in order to eat for health. The FDA is just as sensitive to special interests as any other agency in the World. Also, if the fat is saturated from a non-animal source, and not altered in any way (virgin, as you put it), then it is healthy. Everything in moderation. As you well know, one cannot generalize. Not all saturated fats are detrimental, there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, and there are good carbs and bad ones, too. I am surprised at the blanket statement vilifying all saturated fats, including natural unaltered ones from vegetable sources.

  7. Wow, the libertarian trolls are out in force today (or are they conspiracy theorists? Hell, they’re the same.)

  8. Davey is not THE authority for nutrition, guys, you can stop slamming him and do your own research. Thanks Davey for raising awareness.

    One thing I wanted to say though because I have seen people point to populations in the past and attribute their health to a single item. But I think we need to look at them in totality. Let’s face it, in general Americans are lazy, so many of us work sedentary jobs, and then come home and sit down on the couch and watch TV. This is a HUGE detriment on your health.

  9. I agree with many people above that FDA standards are “interesting” none-the-less. As a healthcare professional, the way I view coconut oil is this: in foods that typically contain highly processed oils or those made from GMO sources, this is a much better option. Many processed foods (which paleos are told to avoid) are made specifically with canola oil. The reason we hate processed oils is that they are not easily extracted (if you try to extract oil from corn by hand I say good luck to you!) use industrial solvents (chemicals) to extract these oils. The reason why GMO foods are disliked beside from the fact that they contain components that modify DNA (and the exact effects on human DNA are not known) is that these foods are modified to withstand pesticides/fungicides which can then be contaminated into the food. For me coconut oil is never a substitute for butter (I use ghee/purified butter personally) but it IS a better option than some of the oils in processed foods that are consumed on a smaller scale. And more importantly is to make sure you consume more omega-3s especially fiash or fish oil supplements high in EPA/DHA. Other omega-3s are better to consume than omega-6 heavy oils as Davey Wavey pointed out, but in the body you get a low yield of conversion to EPA/DHA (like 0.5% DHA) which have many health benefits

  10. best darn personal lube and skin and hair conditioner IMHO. just slick it and stick it… Love you Davey even if you don’t toss your granola with it.

  11. I am on the fence with anything that comes from the FDA as an authoritative body. Didn’t they endorse cigarettes, the old food pyramid, and countless other products that are inherently bad for human consumption. They are a political entity of the Administration in power and PAC’s. It’s like when the Bush administration writers were re-writing scientific research so it could fit into there agenda.

  12. Xyyachan says:

    But it’s still good for your skin, rubbing it on I mean, right? :3 because I mean it’s oil from coconuts after all <3

  13. The FDA is out to promote the products of American businesses. Coconut oil for the most part is imported and competes against American products.

    In your article it seems that you still believe that saturated fat is bad for you. This is not true. There really is no basis for the current low-fat diet recommendations. Though fats high in Omega-6s cause inflammation, so really the recommendation is for fats with Omega-3s (i.e. grass-fed animals).

    According to Gary Taubes’s books it has never been proven that high intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol are detrimental to our health. The American Heart Association bases their “low-fat” prescription off of five studies. The Ancel Keys study was an outright fraud. The other four:

    (1) The Los Angeles VA Hospital Study (1969): Researchers didn’t collect data regarding smoking habits for some men, and stated later that half the participants strayed from the prescribed diet.

    (2) The Oslo Diet-Heart Study (1970); basically proved nothing regarding deaths from heart disease and a low fat diet.

    (3) The Finnish Mental Hospital Study (1979): almost half of the participants either left or joined half way through the 12 year study.

    (4) The St. Thomas’ Atherosclerosis Regression Study (1992): 74 men showed a reduction in heart disease by those who ate diets low in saturated fat… but they were also required to eat less sugar. Since the message needed to be “saturated fat bad” that little detail is often left out.

    Let me sum it up: Cholesterol doesn’t lead to heart problems. Cholesterol is absolutely essential to good health. A major factor is the small dense LDL particles that cause problems.

  14. The whole premise comes down to the notion that saturated fat causes disease. If you do some thorough research you will find that this is actually not true, and based on erroneous research 30ish years ago.

    Saturated fat does not cause disease.

  15. christopher says:

    ive never been a big fan of coconut oil only because im allergic to coconut.i know its high in saturated fat.i always stick with olive oil or canola oil.—have you lately had buttered popcorn at movies lately?most use coconut oil in their immitation butter they seem to use-because of lower cost versus real butter.their is a difference in taste.i always suspect FDA-and what they are really up to.seems other blogbuddies have this figured out as well.

  16. Coconut Oil, is healthy for you and makes a wonderful substitute, Something to also consider, Moderation. Coconut oil Spreads extremely well and you don’t need as much as butter, or olive oil, w/e you were using.. It’s not like you are gonna sit there with a jar of butter, olive oil or coconut oil and chow down! Some people might but that’s another story.

  17. Because everyone’s pretty much railing on Davey and the FDA, I’m going to point out that the FDA has occasionally thrown a fit about high fructose corn syrup.

    But that’s really beside the point, there just hasn’t been enough research. And in the meantime, many organizations including the World Health Organization, and the British NHS discourage it as well. I could keep listing but there’s little point.

    And he has a point, there’s a TON of saturated fat, sure you could be right but you very well could be wrong as well.

  18. I don’t see why everyone is so pissy. The FDA standards may be this that or the other to you, but look at the facts.
    There simply hasn’t been enough research on coconut oil (which I put in my hair not my stomach). However, Davey statement about the FDA and coconut oil are actually backed by other countries including but probably not limited to the UK and South Korea.
    After speaking to a friend from a small town in Chile on the topic I learned even many of them use the oils of a coconut to cook meals unless times were tough and they had not other choice. Though she admits that as children her and her siblings would get a few meals cooked in coconut oil to give them a bit of fat.
    She said that was just how her mother and a lot of her town had been taught, however she had friends who enjoyed foods cooked in the oils and used it all the time, but some (not all) had issues with heart and weight as they got older.
    When I told her it was not FDA approved in the US she said she really wasn’t surprised. It was high in saturated fat and that she didn’t recommend using it in food very often. When I asked her to compare it to olive oil, she laughed and said there was no comparison. She would use olive oil over coconut oil any day.

    Now, obviously this is word of mouth, but feel free to research it on your own time.

    Korean Professors
    Friend from Chile

  19. And the AHA are backed by science? Uh, no. They are not. I will continue to eat virgin coconut oil in generous quantities. Saturated fat has not been proven to cause heart disease or high cholesterol. Coconut oil has been shown to have a myriad of health benefits.

  20. About the FDA… former Vice President of Public Policy for Monsanto, is now the senior adviser to the Commissioner of the FDA. He went back and forth between Monsanto and the FDA for YEARS. Just a little something to ponder. FYI-Monsanto is a leading producer of GMO’s.

  21. Oops, forgot the man’s name, it’s Michael Taylor

  22. I’ve been using a coconut oil called Memory Oil, and it is fantastic! Can’t go wrong with it, it is only $10 a 14oz. bottle! The value is just as great as a $20-$30 bottle of other coconut oils! I’d recommend it, because it saves you money and tastes great! Here is the link to Memory Oils site! Thanks

  23. The benefits if coconut oil lay in the fact that its MCT is lauric acid. Lauric acid is the primary fatty acid in human breast milk. Those are the only two places it can be found…that has to county for something…

  24. If it’s so bad for you then I should be fat by now. I use it personally makes oatmeal taste super good and from what I experienced with yeast overgrowth it’s helped with that too. Ppl don’t really rely on the government who at one point thought that tomatoes or coffee would give you cancer don’t forget lettuce and now all of a sudden it’s used to help you lose weight pfff

  25. Don’t you find it the least interesting – the entire mainstream medical and research community is blind to the benefit virgin coconut oil may have to Americans whose well-documented number one cause of death is coronary heart disease, to do at least ONE human atherosclerosis imaging study?

  26. theragingscotsman says:

    Late to the party (WHUT?), nobody left to hear my voice.
    Nonetheless, it seems to me that “Caveat Emptor” is ALWAYS the place to start from. WaveyDavey is merely offering information, but it is still incumbent upon us consumers to protect ourselves by investigating and fact-finding. After all, if someone told your Paleolithic self that he just made friends with a tiger, and that you should not be afraid of them, wouldn’t it be prudent to wait and watch how others in your area interacted with tigers before volunteering yourself for lunch? Of course it would be wise of you as well to examine the relationship between you and the person who gave you tine information on tame tigers, and a healthy speculation on their motives would be a simple act of self-preservation, no?
    So there is no reason to attack the messenger, but it is always good to use your own judgment, based on the available facts regardless of the source, whether it be government, individuals or even your own family, whose intentions are least suspect, yet just as fraught with the potential for error as any other source.
    See, even a raging Scotsman can write an apolitical piece!