Coconut Oil: A Heart Healthy, Brain Friendly Pantry Addition?


Click to view WZZM Take 5 Segment

Coconut oil is the latest cure all.  Dr. Oz, the Christian Health Network, and other smaller media channels have spotlighted coconut oil segments for various health benefits including heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, ALS, epilepsy, dementia, schizophrenia, autism, and that it’s antibacterial properties helps kill viruses like AIDS and herpes.

The public should be highly suspicious when a single product such as “coconut oil” promises to reduce symptoms and even cure a variety of such complex diseases.  Costco now devotes shelf space to coconut oil sales – along with a number of health and wellness sites on eBay for a price tag that ranges between $15-18 a container.  Today’s “In Your Cart” segment reviews the nutrition facts and scientific data related to heart disease and Alzheimer’s to determine just what coconut oil is or isn’t good for.

Coconut Oil Ingredients: 100% Unrefined, Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.

Coconut Oil Nutrition Facts Panel as compared to butter and extra virgin olive oil:

Portion Size          (1 Tablespoon) Extra Virgin, Organic Coconut Oil Butter Extra VirginOlive Oil
Cost per Portion
Calories 130 100 125
Total Fat 14 11 14
Saturated Fat 12 7 2
Trans Fat 0 0 0
Cholesterol 0 30 0
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 3 1.5
Monounsaturated Fat 0.5 0.5 10

Neither the American Heart Association nor the United States 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest that coconut oil is better for your health than any other saturated fat.  As viewers can see, coconut oil is solid at room temperature just like butter, Crisco solid shortening, and other saturated fats.  Based on the nutritional data, most researchers conclude that while coconut oil contains no cholesterol (it is a plant, not animal fat) or trans fat, it is very high in saturated fat, the bad fat that raises LDL cholesterol.  Coconut oil has some myristic, heart friendly fats – yet it has more lauric, heart unfriendly fatty acids.  However it is the unusual combination of myristic and lauric acids, along with coconut plant phytochemicals, that health researchers are focusing on.

While scientific research does suggest that it improves the total HDL (good cholesterol) to LDL (bad cholesterol) ratio, the fact that it raises LDL cholesterol, the hallmark for heart disease, outweighs the positive change in ratio.  This means, we need to limit the total calories that come from coconut oil along with all of our other sources of saturated fats such as butter, animal meats, the skin on poultry and high fat dairy products to less than 10% of total calories per day.

For an individual on a 2000-calorie diet that is 22 grams of saturated fat per day.  From a heart health standpoint, many of the coconut oil therapies suggest consuming 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil 2-3 times/day.  According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause, resulting in 1 out of every 4 deaths in the United States.  Cardiac experts suggest that there is insufficient evidence to date to increase your coconut oil intake beyond the recommended daily saturated fat limit.

Testimonials, not research based on animal or more importantly human studies, have caught the attention of our aging population and any family member who has a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.  Both victims and family members would try almost anything to improve the mental clarity and prevent the slide in brain function and loss of independence.  However, it is important to note that to date, the majority of the “turn around” cases touted in coconut oil testimonials were also on FDA approved medications!  This is compounded by the fact that in the earlier to mid stages of Alzheimer’s, patients bounce between periods of extreme clarity to confusion and withdrawal.  There have been no well-controlled, human studies to date.

Google coconut oil and cancer, diabetes, ALS, schizophrenia, autism, Aids and herpes and you will get many hits that include testimonials, success stories and options to buy this product on line.  Yet the bottom line is limit coconut oil along with your other saturated fat intake until further, well-controlled research proves that it is indeed a healthier option.

How does coconut oil taste in food?  It’s adds a unique nutty and floral flavor, a crisp texture and is relatively inexpensive.  It has a higher smoke point which makes it useful for frying and is shelf stable so it doesn’t require refrigeration.  Other uses include the addition to soaps, make up and skin creams.  Maybe one day we will be able to say coconut oil is good for you inside and out but this is not that day.

Categories: The Grocery Aisle

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