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Just Ask Jase: Coconut-so-good?

Hi Jase,

For a while coconut byproducts have been hailed as a healthier option than artificial oils and creams, but now it seems that they’re not as great an alternative. How can I be sure that I’m using the healthiest options when preparing my meals?

 – Natural Foodie”



Hi Natural Foodie, thank you for this question.

To be honest, I have been waiting longer than expected to receive a question regarding the truth behind coconut products (oils and creams) and health outcomes. First, let us look at where the messages have originated from to understand why we have recently discovered that around 70% of people believe these are “healthy” alternatives.

In 2003, two research papers were published that eating and cooking with a specific type of dietary fats (medium chained fatty acids) which are one of the types of fats found in coconut oils and creams assisted those who were “dieting” to lose more body fat. For those after some light reading, click here and here to access these articles.

However, the fatal flaw from this conclusion lies in just HOW MUCH of these medium chained fatty acids are found in coconut oils and creams (only 14%). Compare this to the fat blend developed for use in the above research h studies (100% medium chained fatty acid content) and you can see how the link to coconut oils and creams being of benefit for fat loss being extremely thin..

Now that we have quashed argument number 1, let us look at the secondary argument presented in favour of coconut oils and creams being beneficial for health. Coconut enthusiasts have stated that the increase in “good” cholesterol levels (HDL) also warrants you adopting a love for coconut products.  Whilst this is true, they fail to mention that your total cholesterol levels and “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL) increase significantly after consuming coconut oils and creams.

Often, the failure to mention this comes from a lack of understanding regarding the “metabolic cholesterol pathways” within our body, and the response we see when we ingest certain forms of fats. Essentially, work on the following information regarding the three main forms of fats within foods (mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated, saturated):

  1. Saturated fatty acids will elevate total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. Primary fat in coconut oils and creams.
  2. Poly-unsaturated fatty acids will also elevate total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol with a lesser increase in LDL (bad) Primary fat in vegetable oils.
  3. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids will increase total cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol however will actively work to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Primary fat in extra virgin olive oils.

Now we still have very large bodies of evidence from population based research studies that link elevated levels of total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke). This makes perfect sense when you consider the way that cardiovascular disease development occurs (an entire article of its own), so therefore this second argument in favour of coconut oils and creams is also lacking credibility.

My take home messages are:

  1. If you desire losing weight, focus on the priority area as shown by clinical evidence, and that is your caloric balance.
  2. The best forms of cooking oils would be those predominantly rich in mono-unsaturated fats (i.e. extra virgin olive oil) given their known health benefits regarding cholesterol pathways in the body.
  3. If you want to extend the argument that oils such as extra virgin olive oil are not stable to use under heat (yet again a whole article by itself) then rest assured it is perfectly suitable for all cooking applications. The only caveat would be scenarios such as “deep frying” and the temperatures associated, however given how this practice is very much considered detrimental to your overall health I would encourage you to avoid this cooking method.

Hopefully this can put to bed the misconceptions regarding coconut oils and creams regarding your health!


— Jase


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Jason is the owner, resident sports dietitian and strength and conditioning coach at Enliven Nutrition. He specialises in sports performance, nutrition, weight management and strength conditioning training, and established Enliven Nutrition with the vision of providing nutrition and training programs that achieve any health or performance goal.




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