For those of you who missed the USA Today article, a professor decided that, amid a world awash with animal fats, she needed to single out coconut oil as pure poison.
I went looking, and here’s what I found:
In July of 2018, researchers attempted to compare different fats. They did this by combining every study they could find that compared two fats. If one fat was compared against olive oil, and another fat was compared against olive oil, they assumed that the two fats would perform similarly against each other. If you have a question about this logic, so did they, but they were pretty desperate.
No definitive research.
Why? Because, and this is important, almost no research has been done on comparing different fats. So when anyone, no matter what their degrees, and no matter how many letters they have after their name, says anything definitive about comparing fats, they literally don’t know what they are talking about. That means if someone tells you that coconut oil is poison, they are voicing their opinion based on…the fact they personally are allergic to coconut oil? Or maybe they suffer from doctor-as-God-itis and are pontificating from on high without a shred of data to their name.
But let’s take the squished together studies as fact for a minute and see what we might know about vegetable fats. For this discussion, you need to know that HDL is good fat (cleans your pipes) LDL is bad fat (clogs your pipes) and Triglycerides are bad (may lead to diabetes).
If we replace butter with a vegetable oil, how does it do at lowering your LDL (bad fat)? All vegetable fats tested (safflower, sunflower, rapeseed, flaxseed, corn, olive, soybean, palm, and coconut oil) lowered LDL better than butter. Even beef fat lowered LDL compared to butter. Compared to lard, safflower, sunflower, rapeseed, corn, and soybean oils had a pronounced better effect on LDL. Sunflower oil was more effective at reducing LDL compared to olive or palm oils. But the take home for coconut oil lovers is that it is different and better for LDL levels than butter.
What about total cholesterol levels? Replacing butter with safflower, sunflower, rapeseed, flaxseed, corn, olive, soybean, palm, coconut oil, or even beef fat was effective at reducing total cholesterol. Safflower, sunflower, rapeseed, corn, and soybean oil outperformed lard at lowering cholesterol. Most of the same oils (safflower, sunflower, rapeseed, and corn) lowered overall cholesterol better than palm or coconut oils. Safflower, sunflower, and rapeseed oils also outperformed olive oil at lowering overall cholesterol. So the take home for coconut oil lovers is that coconut oil doesn’t raise cholesterol and lowers it compared to animal fats.
But what about the good fat, HDL? Replacing safflower oil with sunflower, olive, palm, or coconut oil increases HDL. Sunflower and olive oil were more effective than soybean oil. Beef fat was more effective than safflower or soybean oil. Coconut and palm oils were more effective at raising HDL than corn or soybean oils. So coconut oil is better than most other vegetable oils at raising your HDL good fat. It’s actually the best of all the oils tested at raising your HDL levels.
In summary, coconut oil is not poison. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but it outperforms animal fats on straight tests for cholesterol and blood lipids. Anyone claiming otherwise needs to have just funded a major study, because we have no evidence justifying any extreme claims about coconut oils.