For many the thought of Coconuts immediately leads to thoughts of laying on a beach in a sunny location, drinking a cocktail and the smell of coconut tanning lotion permeating the air.
Coconut Oil enjoyed the title of superfood for a while, although the evidence does indicate that Coconut Oil and Coconut products are not the superfood that originally thought. Part of this confusion is to some of the original research being limited, with small numbers of participants, biased samples and poor dietary assessment.
A research review in 2016 concluded that unsaturated oils such as Extra Virgin Olive Oil were much better for cardiac health. Coconut Oil was found to raise cholesterol due to the high levels of saturated fat having poor health effects particulalry for those with a high risk of cardiovascular disease. The effect on good cholesterol was difficult to determine due to some poorly designed studies. More literature research in 2019 also found some of the positive results from Coconut Oil were as a result of manipulating other factors in the subjects diets leading to positive outcomes not able to be attributed to Coconut Oil. What we do know is that Cocnut Oil is high in Saturated Fat and it has no real benefits in a typical Western Diet. Due to a low smoking point, it should not be used in cooking, particulalry deep frying.
So is Coconut Oil good for you? CHOICE magazine reviewed the evidence in 2021, summarising health benefits as follows:-
Anti-inflammatory Properties - Applied to the skin, it may have an anti-inflammatory effect and also can be a good skin moisturiser.
The type of fats in Coconut Oil are different to other fats and some of the health benefits are still lacking research. Claimed benefits include a reduction in hunger and improved symptoms of Alzheimers Disease but more research is required to prove these and other health claims.
Coconut Oil is high in Saturated Fat (higher than butter). One tablesppon of Coconut OIl is approx 490kJ (117 Calories) 13.6g of fat of which 11.8g is Saturated and only traces of a few other nutrients.
The fatty acids in Coconut Oil can raise LDL cholesterol. (bad cholesterol). It is also shown to help raise HDL Cholesterol (the good cholesterol), but the evidence is conflicting and the increase is negligible.
Other plant based oils are much better for you. Oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean, grape seed and extra virgin olive oil as they contain significantly less saturated fat.
Until more research is completed, the general consensus is that Coconut Oil, is not the superfood originally thought, but that other plant-based oils are a better option, particularly if you have high cholesterol. For cooking, Coconut Oil can be good for stir fries, and baking vegetables, but not for deep-frying. It is also good for baking in vegan and paleo recipes as a substitute for butter.
Choice magazine also recommend olive oils in curries or on salads, and the use of rice bran oil and peanut oil in stir fries with extra virgin olive oil good on a moderate heat and as a salad dressing. The Australian Heart Foundation recommend heart-protective oils such as olive oil, nut-butters and avocado. References da Silva Lima, R., & Block, J. M. (2019). Coconut Oill: what do we really know about it so far? Food Quality and Safety, XX 1-12.
Eyres, L., Eyres, M. F., Chisholm, A., & Brown, R. C. (2016). Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutrition Reviews, 74(4), 267-280.
Picone, L. (2021, May 07). Is coconut oil actually healthy? Retrieved from