Is Coconut Oil Really That Bad? Let's Look At The Facts

In a recent lecture, professor Karin Michels from the University of Freiburg made the claim that the latest health fad, coconut oil, is "pure poison." As a previous Inquisitr article points out, Michels is also a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, so it is likely she has researched her claims before making her statement which was posted to YouTube and has already garnered over 1 million views.

So, what are the facts surrounding coconut oil?

As CNN points out, many people think coconut oil is a healthy alternative. A survey conducted in 2016 and published in the New York Times found that 72 percent of Americans think coconut oil is healthy, versus only 37 percent of the nutritionists that were polled.

Yet, Michels said in her lecture, which was conducted entirely in German, so this is the English translation, that "coconut oil is one of the worst things you can eat."

However, while it is a bold statement, it might not be entirely correct. According to Dr. Walter C. Willett, who is a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where Michels is also an adjunct professor, coconut oil falls somewhere in the middle range when it comes to good versus bad consumable fats.

"Coconut oil is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of types of fats. It's probably better than partially hydrogenated oils, [which are] high in trans fats, but not as good as the more unsaturated plant oils that have proven health benefits, like olive and canola oil."
Experts discuss the health benefits of coconut oil
Pixabay | moho01

The reason for this is the fact that coconut oil contains a high content of saturated fat. In fact, it has more than 80 percent saturated fat, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA).

Saturated fats are the ones that tend to hang around in your arteries and lead to heart disease, according to health experts. However, coconut oil has something else in its makeup, something that is considered good for you.

The saturated fat in coconut oil is what leads to LDL cholesterol, also known as the "bad" cholesterol. However, coconut oil also helps to raise HDL cholesterol, which is the "good" kind. In addition to the fact that some HDLs are known to lower LDL levels, it has led to the trend of using coconut oil for health benefits. The increase of HDL is also especially true when coconut oil is used in replacement of carbohydrates in the diet, according to CNN.

However, this is where things get tricky. While coconut oil may raise HDL levels, there is still no evidence to suggest that the type of HDL created from coconut oil is the kind that also lowers the level of LDL.

"There's been debate about the role of HDL," Dr. Willett said. "Partly because there are many forms of HDL which have different health consequences... which has made the water murky."

There is also little actual quantified research when it comes to the effects of coconut oil on the body. And, unfortunately, this sort of research takes time in order to see what the long-term effects of consuming coconut oil are.

So, in the meantime, experts are suggesting that consumers cut back their coconut oil intake and save it for special occasions.

"It's not that you have to absolutely avoid coconut oil, but rather limit coconut oil to where you really need that special flavor, like for Thai food or for baking a special dessert," Willett said.

The American Heart Association also recommends that it is "better to enjoy the use of coconut oil on your skin than in your food."