Coconut oil has recently gained popularity due to heavy marketing in the US and Australia. There’s a significant amount of misinformation around its health benefits, with marketing extolling its virtues. Most claims are testimonials rather than hard evidence of benefit.
Coconut oil is exceptionally high in saturated fat (92%). Several randomised controlled trials have indicated it increases total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) more than other oils (sunflower, olive, and avocado oils) but not quite to the extent of butter. High total cholesterol and particularly high lipoprotein cholesterol have proven to increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease, so it seems coconut oil isn’t good for your arteries or heart health.
Research to determine if coconut oil helps people lose weight has consisted of only one trial. In that trial there was a statistically significant reduction in waist circumference by 2.87cm over a month in people who consumed 30mls of virgin coconut oil a day, although only men found changes in their waistline measurements.
There’s minimal data as to the health outcomes of people who consume high amounts of coconut oil. It can be used as a culinary oil but, as with all high fat foods, its consumption should be limited (7–10% of total calories per day, maximum). Although it can be better than butter, current evidence recommends against switching from unsaturated oils to coconut oil as a result of the current fad.
For the humble coconut, though, all is not lost. There is evidence that other coconut products such as the flesh and milk—both of which contain fibre—don’t have negative effects on one’s health when included in a balanced healthy diet containing fruit, vegetables and lean meat.
With this in mind, pass me a pina colada!