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Coconut Oil — A Healthy Saturated Fat?

We’ve recently been BOMBARDED with questions about coconut oil … it is HOT and getting a ton of attention.  So, being that it’s my birthday, it was time to take a day off of blogging … and repost an earlier one that will hopefully answer many of the questions that we’re getting.

___________________________________

Last week we spent some time in California.

A little work in the Santa Cruz area and then ALL play in Sonoma.  Some wine tastings, olive oil tastings, beautiful weather and great for a little R & R.

While we were in Santa Cruz, I was giving a talk on omega-3 fats and healthy fats in general.  We were at the Nordic Naturals HQ (the #1 omega-3 fish oil company) and at the end of the presentation, I was asked about the health benefits of coconut oil.

Last week we talkedcoconut oil health benefits about the potential health benefits of coconut water.  Now, we’re moving on to coconut oil.

Coconut oil has traditionally gotten a very bad wrap because it is mostly saturated fat.  And it’s been shown through research that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.  Put those two sentences together … and in the most simplistic terms, it means too much coconut oil can cause heart disease.

But then some research started to emerge, looking more closely at the type of saturated fat that is in coconut oil (primarily lauric acid, for other nerds like us).  And proponents started to point at the longevity of some populations in tropical areas who have been eating coconut oil for centuries as evidence that it should be part of the diet.  Others, not surprisingly, also started to suggest coconut oil has some magical "cure all" health properties … of course there’s always two sides to every story. 

We’ll let the research do the talking instead of what you’ll find with a simple google search.

We’ll save you the complicated biochemistry, but just know that the different types of saturated fats seem to make a difference in terms of their health properties.  This hasn’t given governing bodies the "go ahead" however to start recommending coconut oil.

Many still suggest it’s saturated, so it’s therefore "bad."  

From our point of view and scouring over the research, though, we like coconut oil.  But here’s the most important point of this entire email …

we like it as a replacement for less healthy, processed saturated and trans fats.  We’re not suggesting you buy tubs of coconut oil and eat it by the spoonful.  It’s not about "adding" coconut oil to a junky diet.  It’s about replacing.  That’s the key.

And when we’re talking coconut oil, it’s the unprocessed, extra virgin coconut oil we’d suggest.  Processed or partially hydrogenated coconut oil is just as bad for you as other processed fats (or any sugar, for that matter, but today we’re focusing solely on fat).

So the general recommendations still stand ring true — keep saturated fat to under 10% of your overall fat calories.  But then within that recommendation, focus on the saturated fats that aren’t processed, which is exactly where unprocessed, extra virgin coconut oil falls into play. 

Yes, it can all be very confusing.

Here are 3 take away points from ‘Coconut Oil — A Healthy Saturated Fat.’

  1. Stick to unprocessed, extra virgin coconut oil.
  2. REPLACE less healthy processed and trans fats with unprocessed, extra virgin coconut oil.
  3. Coconut oil is not a magical cure all like some suggest.  It’s a healthier saturated fat.  That’s it.

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15 Responses to Coconut Oil — A Healthy Saturated Fat?

  1. MzTeaze March 14, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    Thanks for this discussion as I have been waiting since seeing a proliferation of articles about coconut oil. Some say its GREAT for you while others say its no good. I have started using it in some of our meals as a replacement for olive oil. It tastes good and I find I can use even less of it than I could with EVOO.

    • Chris and Kara Mohr March 14, 2011 at 10:33 am #

      Of course remember olive oil is super healthy. I’d rather see you replacing the less healthy saturated and trans fats. :-)

  2. julie March 14, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    But you, do you use it… ???

    And is it changing the tast of aliments?

    • Chris and Kara Mohr March 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

      Sure, occasionally … I just added some to my smoothie.

  3. John March 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    I just wanted to say I have been eating fresh coconut pretty much every day for the last few years and love the benefits from it. It being a medium chain triglyceride from my understanding it is either used or passed through. Either way I love eating it and probably the best side effect that I have noticed is that a lot of the wrinkles aroud my face have all but disappeared, it took some time though. That and when I am cycling low carbs it really gives me a kick at the gym for energy. I also use coconut oil usually whenever I cook as I like the flavor it brings.

  4. Dawn July 29, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    Happy Birthday Dr. Mohr! Thank you for your blog. I have really enjoyed reading them throughout the past few months. Good stuff I share with my clients and fitness camp participants. Thank you again.

    • Chris and Kara Mohr August 1, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Thanks, Dawn!

  5. Richard rvhalejr July 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    I love the tropics, its people and everything that grows there. People have been living of the coconut forever and the vast majority of people using it just love it.

    People in the U.S. are a lot less healthy and their metabolism is different. The Mediterranean diet and its MUFAs (Extra Virgin Olive Oil+) are a much better fit Epidemiologically (the study of health in large population groups). If we look at the historical record Coconuts (and its oil) have not been a significant part of our diet.

    Epigenetically (genes expressed or inhibited in this case by the diet) there would have been limited use of Coconuts in northern climates and almost no chance that it would play a significant role in natural selection. This is a bit silly because one Jar of Coconut oil is made from about 50lbs of Coconuts (if memory serves me correctly).

    Saturated and Trans fats are solid at room temperature and were introduced early in the 1900s as a cost saving product that had a very long self life and improved the taste of fried (and deep fried) foods namely Cisco cooking oil
    and may have been promoted during WWII as and additive that would mitigate rationing.

    It is my impression that there is some uncertainty in the literature as to where to draw the line with fats that differentiates the good from the bad. Questions
    have been raised challenging the long sacred LDL/HDL ratio (just look at the site our good Doctors mentioned and the “LDL” product as an example w.r.t. the confusion). I get confused pretty easily so maybe its just me.

    Here are a few highlights of the facts in the U.S. take what you find useful and ignore the rest.

    The American Heart Association will not recommend coconut oil as there is insufficient evidence to justify its use.

    If you have any symptoms or in a high risk group (Obese, African American Males, etc.) as your doctor has probably explained to you; stay away from saturated and trans-fats and keep your LDL (Bad Fat) number down. CVD
    (CardioVascular Disease) and Arteriosclerosis (strokes) are very scary.

    I get chest pains after including MCTs (Coconut oil) in my diet after a week or
    so. I also get chest pains from chondroitin (I have no idea why – could be similar to people having allergies to certain foods which I do not have).

    These substances (that I have problems with)were the best I could find.
    Usually chest pains mean gas. I also can prove clinically I’m genetically defective here and there and one person reporting a side effect is statistically insignificant.

    One other misconception. Every cell wall in your body is made from lipids (a polarized type of fat) and cholesterol which is a critical structural stiffening element in many cell walls. So basically we cannot live without fats. Our body can synthesize most of the fats we need but total elimination from our diet is probably not a good thing (presumably making it, and some vital organs, work harder).

    A table spoon or two of Extra Virgin Olive Oil+ on a salad (plus some balsamic vinegar, dill, basal, garlic, etc.) is a good thing. Omega-3 and fish oil supplements are a must (unless you eat fish every day). The Oil+ plus
    sign refers to non-expeller if you can find it as they can get very hot.

    CLA (Conjugated Linolec Acid) is best known for its anti-cancer properties (researchers found the cis-9, trans-11 molecule == c9t11) can reduce the risk for CardioVascular Disease (CVD) and weight management properties (,lipid profile and insulin sensitivity) including reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass.

    IMHO CLA (at 3g to 5g a day according to some trials) works a bit like Orlistat, this is pure speculation (based on a sample size of 1 thus insignificant) but would go a long way explaining positive CVD and Obesity effects. Conjecture about the anti-cancer properties might suggest enhanced human cell wall and membrane repair that would inhibit the likelyhood of cell mutations.

    CLA is considered a good Trans-fat. Tonalin is patented and has the less than
    desirable cousin of c9t11 (t10c12) which appears in equal amounts in the product. I have not yet examined the patient (and cascade references regarding the art) but do not understand why t10c12 seems to be included as some do not have good feelings about it.

    When scaled up to the national level there is a lot more at stake than a patient.

    I’ve tried to explain this subject matter in a fair way, suggesting I’m old,
    cranky, and get gas (among other things) that might be mistaken for a presentation of something more serious.

    The takeaway here is if you are in a high risk group stay away from coconut
    oil. If you are a gas prone person best stay away from anything giving you that problem as it could mask signs of something more serious.

    Finally, above all else, if you are uncertain about any symptom call your
    Doctor’s office and leave a message to find out if he would like you to
    visit or perhaps adjust some of your medication.

  6. Richard rvhalejr July 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    I love the tropics, its people and everything that grows there. People have been living of the coconut forever and the vast majority of people using it just love it.

    People in the U.S. are a lot less healthy and their metabolism is different. The Mediterranean diet and its MUFAs (Extra Virgin Olive Oil+) are a much better fit Epidemiologically (the study of health in large population groups). If we look at the historical record Coconuts (and its oil) have not been a significant part of our diet.

    Epigenetically (genes expressed or inhibited in this case by the diet) there would have been limited use of Coconuts in northern climates and almost no chance that it would play a significant role in natural selection. This is a bit silly because one Jar of Coconut oil is made from about 50lbs of Coconuts (if memory serves me correctly).

    Saturated and Trans fats are solid at room temperature and were introduced early in the 1900s as a cost saving product that had a very long self life and improved the taste of fried (and deep fried) foods namely Cisco cooking oil
    and may have been promoted during WWII as and additive that would mitigate rationing.

    It is my impression that there is some uncertainty in the literature as to where to draw the line with fats that differentiates the good from the bad. Questions
    have been raised challenging the long sacred LDL/HDL ratio (just look at the site our good Doctors mentioned and the "LDL" product as an example w.r.t. the confusion). I get confused pretty easily so maybe its just me.

    Here are a few highlights of the facts in the U.S. take what you find useful and ignore the rest.

    The American Heart Association will not recommend coconut oil as there is insufficient evidence to justify its use.

    If you have any symptoms or in a high risk group (Obese, African American Males, etc.) as your doctor has probably explained to you; stay away from saturated and trans-fats and keep your LDL (Bad Fat) number down. CVD
    (CardioVascular Disease) and Arteriosclerosis (strokes) are very scary.

    I get chest pains after including MCTs (Coconut oil) in my diet after a week or
    so. I also get chest pains from chondroitin (I have no idea why – could be similar to people having allergies to certain foods which I do not have).

    These substances (that I have problems with)were the best I could find.
    Usually chest pains mean gas. I also can prove clinically I’m genetically defective here and there and one person reporting a side effect is statistically insignificant.

    One other misconception. Every cell wall in your body is made from lipids (a polarized type of fat) and cholesterol which is a critical structural stiffening element in many cell walls. So basically we cannot live without fats. Our body can synthesize most of the fats we need but total elimination from our diet is probably not a good thing (presumably making it, and some vital organs, work harder).

    A table spoon or two of Extra Virgin Olive Oil+ on a salad (plus some balsamic vinegar, dill, basal, garlic, etc.) is a good thing. Omega-3 and fish oil supplements are a must (unless you eat fish every day). The Oil+ plus
    sign refers to non-expeller if you can find it as they can get very hot.

    CLA (Conjugated Linolec Acid) is best known for its anti-cancer properties (researchers found the cis-9, trans-11 molecule == c9t11) can reduce the risk for CardioVascular Disease (CVD) and weight management properties (,lipid profile and insulin sensitivity) including reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass.

    IMHO CLA (at 3g to 5g a day according to some trials) works a bit like Orlistat, this is pure speculation (based on a sample size of 1 thus insignificant) but would go a long way explaining positive CVD and Obesity effects. Conjecture about the anti-cancer properties might suggest enhanced human cell wall and membrane repair that would inhibit the likelyhood of cell mutations.

    CLA is considered a good Trans-fat. Tonalin is patented and has the less than
    desirable cousin of c9t11 (t10c12) which appears in equal amounts in the product. I have not yet examined the patient (and cascade references regarding the art) but do not understand why t10c12 seems to be included as some do not have good feelings about it.

    When scaled up to the national level there is a lot more at stake than a patient.

    I’ve tried to explain this subject matter in a fair way, suggesting I’m old,
    cranky, and get gas (among other things) that might be mistaken for a presentation of something more serious.

    The takeaway here is if you are in a high risk group stay away from coconut
    oil. If you are a gas prone person best stay away from anything giving you that problem as it could mask signs of something more serious.

    Finally, above all else, if you are uncertain about any symptom call your
    Doctor’s office and leave a message to find out if he would like you to
    visit or perhaps adjust some of your medication.

  7. Richard rvhalejr July 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    I love the tropics, its people and everything that grows there. People have been living of the coconut forever and the vast majority of people using it just love it.

    People in the U.S. are a lot less healthy and their metabolism is different. The Mediterranean diet and its MUFAs (Extra Virgin Olive Oil+) are a much better fit Epidemiologically (the study of health in large population groups). If we look at the historical record Coconuts (and its oil) have not been a significant part of our diet.

    Epigenetically (genes expressed or inhibited in this case by the diet) there would have been limited use of Coconuts in northern climates and almost no chance that it would play a significant role in natural selection. This is a bit silly because one Jar of Coconut oil is made from about 50lbs of Coconuts (if memory serves me correctly).

    Saturated and Trans fats are solid at room temperature and were introduced early in the 1900s as a cost saving product that had a very long self life and improved the taste of fried (and deep fried) foods namely Cisco cooking oil
    and may have been promoted during WWII as and additive that would mitigate rationing.

    It is my impression that there is some uncertainty in the literature as to where to draw the line with fats that differentiates the good from the bad. Questions
    have been raised challenging the long sacred LDL/HDL ratio (just look at the site our good Doctors mentioned and the \"LDL\" product as an example w.r.t. the confusion). I get confused pretty easily so maybe its just me.

    Here are a few highlights of the facts in the U.S. take what you find useful and ignore the rest.

    The American Heart Association will not recommend coconut oil as there is insufficient evidence to justify its use.

    If you have any symptoms or in a high risk group (Obese, African American Males, etc.) as your doctor has probably explained to you; stay away from saturated and trans-fats and keep your LDL (Bad Fat) number down. CVD
    (CardioVascular Disease) and Arteriosclerosis (strokes) are very scary.

    I get chest pains after including MCTs (Coconut oil) in my diet after a week or
    so. I also get chest pains from chondroitin (I have no idea why – could be similar to people having allergies to certain foods which I do not have).

    These substances (that I have problems with)were the best I could find.
    Usually chest pains mean gas. I also can prove clinically I\’m genetically defective here and there and one person reporting a side effect is statistically insignificant.

    One other misconception. Every cell wall in your body is made from lipids (a polarized type of fat) and cholesterol which is a critical structural stiffening element in many cell walls. So basically we cannot live without fats. Our body can synthesize most of the fats we need but total elimination from our diet is probably not a good thing (presumably making it, and some vital organs, work harder).

    A table spoon or two of Extra Virgin Olive Oil+ on a salad (plus some balsamic vinegar, dill, basal, garlic, etc.) is a good thing. Omega-3 and fish oil supplements are a must (unless you eat fish every day). The Oil+ plus
    sign refers to non-expeller if you can find it as they can get very hot.

    CLA (Conjugated Linolec Acid) is best known for its anti-cancer properties (researchers found the cis-9, trans-11 molecule == c9t11) can reduce the risk for CardioVascular Disease (CVD) and weight management properties (,lipid profile and insulin sensitivity) including reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass.

    IMHO CLA (at 3g to 5g a day according to some trials) works a bit like Orlistat, this is pure speculation (based on a sample size of 1 thus insignificant) but would go a long way explaining positive CVD and Obesity effects. Conjecture about the anti-cancer properties might suggest enhanced human cell wall and membrane repair that would inhibit the likelyhood of cell mutations.

    CLA is considered a good Trans-fat. Tonalin is patented and has the less than
    desirable cousin of c9t11 (t10c12) which appears in equal amounts in the product. I have not yet examined the patient (and cascade references regarding the art) but do not understand why t10c12 seems to be included as some do not have good feelings about it.

    When scaled up to the national level there is a lot more at stake than a patient.

    I\’ve tried to explain this subject matter in a fair way, suggesting I\’m old,
    cranky, and get gas (among other things) that might be mistaken for a presentation of something more serious.

    The takeaway here is if you are in a high risk group stay away from coconut
    oil. If you are a gas prone person best stay away from anything giving you that problem as it could mask signs of something more serious.

    Finally, above all else, if you are uncertain about any symptom call your
    Doctor\’s office and leave a message to find out if he would like you to
    visit or perhaps adjust some of your medication.

  8. Richard rvhalejr July 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Well, I really made a mess out of the last post. However the following is probably going to be way worse. I downloaded this 8 page paper from the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published in 1995. Pages run from 693S to
    700S, No Other Details Given. Title seems to be”Human Serum Lipid Concentrations” and/or “Trans Fatty Acids and CHD”

    The conclusion is interesting but the last part is confusing and convoluted so I’ve left that off.

    CONCLUSION
    The cholesterol-raising potential of hydrogenated fats has
    been tested in multiple studies performed over the past 40 y.
    Hydrogenated fats, when isocalonically substituted for animal
    or vegetable fats high in saturated fatty acids, significantly
    lower total- and LDL-cholesterol concentrations (1 1 of 11
    metabolic diet studies). However, isoenengetic substitution of
    the hydrogenated fat with the unhydrogenated native oil produces
    even further lowering, suggesting that hydrogenation
    confers a mild cholesterol-raising effect (10 of 1 1 studies).
    Relative to cis-unsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids appear
    to raise total- and LDL-cholestenol concentrations but to a
    lessen degree than do saturated fatty acids (6 of 7 studies). The
    effects of trans fatty acid ingestion on HDL-cholestenol and
    Lp(a) concentrations are unclear; only a few inconclusive studies
    evaluated these endpoints.
    The effect of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils is relative
    to the comparative fat on oil. Hydrogenated vegetable oils will
    lower plasma total- and LDL-cholesterol concentrations when
    substituted for animal fats (eg, butter and lard) and vegetable
    fats rich in saturates (eg, palm,-kernel, and coconut oils).
    However, hydrogenated vegetable oils have a mild plasma
    cholesterol-raising effect when substituted for the unhydrogenated
    native oil. Given the extensive literature supporting a
    causal relation between total cholesterol concentrations and
    CHD, foods containing partially hydrogenated fats are good
    substitutes for traditional fats rich in saturated fat but are not as
    good as substitutes for vegetable oils.

    CHD == Chronic Heart Diease

    Doctor’s, Thank You for your Opinion beforehand.

  9. Richard rvhalejr July 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    ==============================================
    This is the only real negative I’ve found. To be, fair there is much in this
    work irrelevant to coconut oil, its efficacy and safety.

    “In the acute postprandial phase following a meal enriched in saturated
    or polyunsaturated fat, HDL collected from individuals
    after a coconut meal compared with a safflower or unsaturated fat
    meal was associated with a 50–70% increase in intercellular
    adhesion molecule and vascular cell adhesion molecule (131).

    Attribution of this effect specifically to the saturated fat of the
    coconut meal may, however, be confounded by the high concentrations
    of tocopherol found in coconut oil (132).”

    From:
    “Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease”,
    by Patty W Siri-Tarino, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu, and Ronald M Krauss,
    Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:502-9. Printed in USA. (c) 2010 American Society
    for Nutrition, From: the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

    Article References
    (131) Nicholls SJ, Lundman P, Harmer JA, et al. Consumption of saturated
    fat impairs the anti-inflammatory properties of high-density lipoproteins
    and endothelial function. J Am Coll Cardiol 2006;48:715–20.

    (132) Masterjohn C. The anti-inflammatory properties of safflower oil and
    coconut oil may be mediated by their respective concentrations of
    vitamin E. J Am Coll Cardiol 2007;49:1825–6.
    NUTRIENT INTAKES AND RISK OF CVD 509

    =============================================
    I’m going to hang onto this one as it seems to make sense !!!

    “Sorting Out Fat Confusion”

    “There are two basic categories of fats. Healthy fats are unsaturated and include vegetable oils, fish oils, and plant fats in nuts, avocados, and seeds. These fats should be the primary fats in your diet because they are either neutral or raise HDL cholesterol but don’t raise LDL cholesterol.

    The less healthy saturated fats found in animal fats and tropical oils, including coconut oil, are allowed, but in lesser amounts because they raise LDL cholesterol.

    Trans fats in processed foods are the worst fats, capable of lowering HDL and increasing LDL, and should be kept as low as possible.”

    Ref: webmd.com/diet/features/coconut-oil-and-health?page=2
    =============================================
    Doctor’s, Thank You for your Opinion beforehand.

  10. Mark February 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Good stuff, coconut oil is a clear winner and tastes great. However, where is the evidence we still need to limit sat fat to 10% of calories?

    So, if one eats 2,000 calories, or suddenly wants to consume 3,000 calories because they are more active, now all of a sudden “they can get away with eating more sat fat”? Just seems to easy of a rule to make up limit to 10%.

    And really, does anyone really calculate out their % of sat fat they consume compared to their diet? How about we stop stressing over the minutia and do like you said, replace those crap oils that were pushed on us with coconut oil or even real butter.

    Less fake foods, more real foods :)

  11. Sam April 24, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Ur so very wrong. If u have just started to explore it your self ,don’t offer health advise about it.ofcourse if you are consuming lots of other oils and saturated fats ur not going to want to also take in the recommended 4 tbs of pure unrefined virgin coconut oil as well. But if you are on this site u are probaly health conscious already. The benefits of coconut oil are crazy good ,from topical to taking it in your body piece. If you are eating mostly clean natural foods adding the recommended dose it verrrrrrrry beneficial. Do more research. Not everything is about being as skinny as possible .

  12. Mae Wagers May 11, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Coconut oil has traditionally gotten a very bad wrap because it is mostly saturated fat.

    Don’t you mean “Coconut oil has traditionally gotten a very bad “rap?”

    Rap is, I believe, slang for a false criminal charge. .

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