Obviously don’t drink it by the bucket load but it hasn’t suddenly become poisonous!
You’ve probably heard recently that coconut oil is now bad for you.
All this hulabaloo is because of a recent health advisory issued by the American Heart Association (AHA).
And the health advisory is itself the result of a study published in the AHA’s journal Circulation.
This study (which, if you want to read it in full can be found here) was actually an analysis of existing research, in which discussion of coconut oil takes up ONLY HALF A PAGE OF THE 18 PAGE STUDY! The authors were trying to clear up confusion “among patients, their physicians, and the public” about the relationship between dietary saturated fat and risk of cardiovascular disease.
This is all very confusing because isn’t coconut oil the elixir of the heavens? The chosen cooking oil of God himself? And also the glue that bonds all the healthy people we all follow on Instagram?
If you were under the impression that coconut oil was really healthy — or at least not super unhealthy — you’re not alone. Last year BuzzFeed Health reported on a survey about people’s perceptions of different foods’ healthiness that found that about 70% of people thought that coconut oil was healthy, while only about 40% of nutritionists agreed.
So, what is the actual deal with coconut oil?
It turns out there are a few things to know that actually complicate the “omg news flash: coconut oil is really bad for you” conclusion (and probably got lost in the mix as the study was reported).
First of all, the study is NOT PRESENTING NEW EVIDENCE.
It’s important to keep in mind that this study is an analysis of existing research (i.e. The stuff that doctors, nutritionists, dietitians and researchers already knew). In fact, it has been regularly reported on that one of the study’s main conclusions — that people eating a standard American diet should reduce intake of saturated fats (those found in (red meat, cheese, milk, and tropical oils like coconut and palm oils) and replace them with unsaturated fats (like those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, plant-based oils, and fatty fish).
Langer explains that the significant takeaway from this study is less about the effects of coconut oil and more about correcting the misconception that coconut oil is a “health food.”
“We already know all of this…Coconut oil is a fat like all other fats; it’s not a health food. It doesn’t miraculously have some life-changing effect on our bodies…”
It’s your overall diet that really matters. It’s unlikely that your relationship to any single food item will be the one that does you in.
“It’s about your entire dietary pattern, not any one food,” states St. Pierre “I would MUCH rather you eat some veggies mixed with a tablespoon of coconut oil than no veggies at all. A broad mix of fats, including some saturated fats, is a good choice.”
It is also important to note that the review did not take into consideration any clinical trials that compare the direct effects of coconut oil on cardiovascular disease.
Langer explains that this means that the authors are assuming that because coconut oil is a saturated fat (and saturated is suspected to elevate risk of CVD), that coconut oil will elevate CVD risk, too, even though there are no studies to prove that coconut oil does in fact do this.
So to summarise, coconut oil is probably not going to kill you.
“Should you avoid it at all costs? No. Should you drop spoonfuls into your smoothies and eat it like dessert? No. You wouldn’t do that with olive oil — which we know has a good effect on our blood cholesterol — so, don’t do it with coconut oil,” Langer says.
But should you be aware of the potential impact of coconut oil on your health (in the context of your entire diet and your own specific health profile)? Yup, for sure. Just as you should be aware of the impact of anything you eat on your health.