For several years now, coconut oil has been hailed by foodies and health nuts alike as a miracle oil: you could use it for any manner of things including sautéing veggies, repairing leather boots, conditioning hair, and if you were really serious, adding it to coffee to (supposedly) help your body better absorb nutrients. A quick glance at Pinterest shows numerous posts touting the health benefits of coconut oil – including one claiming that coconut oil kills cancer cells (it doesn’t). This view of coconut oil’s benefits means that it’s availability has become both pervasive and unavoidable – numerous food companies now use it as an easy substitute for butter and the now maligned-margarine in processed foods. So when a Harvard researcher referred to coconut oil as “pure poison” in a recent lecture, we knew we wanted to learn more.
Here are a few things you need to know about how the new research on coconut oil affects you:
First, the research isn’t necessarily new, so much as newly understood or given the right context. We’ve known for decades that saturated fat is directly linked to an increase in cholesterol and heart disease, through numerous studies performed by multiple institutions including the American Heart Association. We also know that coconut oil is 82% saturated fat, exceeding even butter its saturated fat content. You can learn more about the science behind saturated fats and the studies conducted here.
Second, there’s very little to no credible research showing coconut oil has the benefits that many swear by. While using coconut oil to remove eye make-up is an easy enough experiment to try on your own, it’s much more challenging to prove legitimate health benefits in a controlled scientific study by a reputable institution. “There are many promising animal, test-tube and observational studies on coconut oil. However, these types of studies can’t prove that coconut oil is beneficial in humans.” You can read more about some of the studies that have been conducted to determine coconut oil’s benefits here.
Finally, we know that moderation and a combination of other habits and genetics all play a factor in how your body responds to any foods, including coconut oil. I combed through numerous articles about this topic, and the only consensus that the nutritionists, researchers, and doctors could agree on was that moderation is key if you are going to consume coconut oil, just like with any saturated fat. This article does a lovely job of laying out why not all medical professionals take as harsh of stand as claiming coconut oil is “poison.”
Last summer I was chatting with a friend of mine who is a cardiologist, and I asked him if we should be putting coconut oil in coffee for the implied health benefits. His answer summarizes what the medical community agrees on regarding coconut oil moderation: “Please don’t.”