Coconut Oil: Myth vs. Fact
The coconut has a long and respected history throughout the world, but in recent times coconut oil has been given a bad reputation. This has been a combination of:
- The misconception that, since it is a “saturated fat” it will raise blood cholesterol, and
- Prejudice & marketing: In the 1980’s the Soybean industry set out to “educate” the public about the benefits of soybean oil (we all know better now) and of the dangers of saturated fat in coconut oil. Well meaning, but misguided, special interest groups such as The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) joined in the attack on saturated fats. These groups succeeded in demonizing ALL saturated fats, and coconut oil in particular. It was CSPI who coined the term “artery-clogging fat” in reference to coconut oil.
All Oils Are Not Created Equal
The general public, and apparently the American Medical Association, don’t know that there are different types of saturated fat. Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat and is bracketed with animal fat by many people. It should be noted that coconut oil has no cholesterol, and the latter is a component of animal fat only. However, intake of saturated fats may result in elevation of blood cholesterol levels*. But all oils are not the same. Coconut oil is a good food, and most of it’s saturated fat (approximately 64%) is Medium-Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs). All other vegetable oils and animal oils contain Long Chain Fatty Acids (LCFAs). Coconut oil is different from all other oils containing saturated fatty acids.
Coconut Oil Aids Digestion
The digestion of coconut oils is faster and starts almost in the mouth itself. Coconut oil undergoes complete digestion in the stomach and upper intestine, not requiring the pancreatic enzyme lipase for its digestion. It also has better solubility in biological fluids and gets absorbed directly into the portal (venous) blood and carried directly to the liver to undergo rapid oxidation to release energy. They don’t have the capacity to get deposited as fats and change the blood fat content.
LCFAs, on the other hand, do need lipase for digestion, do not easily mix with biological fluids, and are absorbed into the intestinal wall as triglycerides. They are first incorporated into large soluble particles by the intestinal cells, then go to the liver via the lymphatics and the circulatory system, circulating around all parts of the body before going to the liver for final oxidation. They are more likely to get deposited as fats and change blood fat content.
Coconut oil does not produce any significant change in the circulating VLDLs (very low density lipoproteins) or cholesterol. Eating real coconut oil does not cause cholesterol deposits; it never did and it never will.
What You Don’t Hear About Coconut Oil
While the public was being lied to about the dangers of coconut oil the medical community was actively using it on their patients.
- Coconut oil is a major ingredient in hospital and commercial baby formulas.
- It is used in over-the-counter medications and added to foods to protect them from spoilage.
- Nutritional products such as powdered sports drinks and energy bars use it.
Often the terms MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride, a.k.a. fractionalized coconut oil) and/or caprylic or lauric acids (the so-called artery-clogging saturated fats in coconut oil) were used to hide the fact that some form of coconut oil was in the product.
Since it was believed to be an “artery-clogging” saturated fat, coconut oil consumption and use had dramatically declined over the past few decades. People instead were eating margarine, shortening and processed vegetable oils. These resulted in health issues such as Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), and obesity. CVD is the #1 killer of Americans, and in particular females. Obesity is right behind CVD. These diseases, as well as virtually every chronic disease that Americans are suffering from today, were unheard of just a few decades ago.
Coconut Oil Myths Busted!
So, the takeaway is this: Coconut oil never has and never will cause cholesterol deposits, but does increase your good cholesterol – HDL (High Density Lipoproteins). Higher HDL lab values are clinically associated with better cardiovascular health. It lowers triglycerides, helps to stabilize blood sugar and aids people with digestive concerns. So go ahead and enjoy whole food, organic coconut oil. Don’t be misled by the medical mainstream. They’re too busy prescribing statins for cholesterol to treat cardiovascular disease. To Your Health!
Bruce Fife, N.D. Coconut Cures: Preventing and Treating Common Health Problems with Coconut. Piccadilly Books, 2005.
Enig, Mary G. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats. Behtesda Press, 2010.