Coconut Oil: Fat or Not?

Coconut oil has recently achieved a kind of celebrity status in some cirlces (Pinterest. I’m talking about Pinterest). To hear some folks talk, there’s no reason to have all these newfangled pharmacies or “doctors” because coconut oil does it all. On the other hand, most of the people we trust with our health information have been telling us to avoid this ambrosia unless we’re looking to get a quadruple bypass soon.

So what are the facts? I’ll break it down into categories and just present the information, but I’d encourage everyone to do their own digging on the matter. This hasn’t been heavily researched yet, so there’s been nothing conclusive.

What Is Coconut Oil About?

In a nutshell, it is an oil that is “high in a saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides. (WebMD)”

What the Scientific Community Is Saying

For years, health professionals have been giving coconut oil a bad name, but that may be changing. However, they’re not singing a different tune just yet. In fact, most medical professionals seem to echo Len Piche’s sentiment in the Huffington Post. Piche is a nutritional scientist, registered dietitian and professor in the Foods and Nutrition program at Brescia University College at Western University in London:

I don’t think any health professional, including myself, is going to tell you to increase the level of saturated fat in your diet […but] I’m not so sure that the nutrient profile of saturated fat in coconut oil is all that bad necessarily because some of them are shorter-chain fatty acids and aren’t implicated in some of the chronic diseases

Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University sheds some light on why coconut oil was the devil incarnate some years ago in a New York Times article:

Most of the studies involving coconut oil were done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which researchers used because they needed to raise the cholesterol levels of their rabbits in order to collect certain data. Virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, is a different thing in terms of a health risk perspective. And maybe it isn’t so bad for you after all.

Please note that in terms of coconut oil, “virgin” does not mean initial press but rather, undoctored, unbleached and unprocessed. In short, we’re NOT talking about the LouAna stuff you buy at Walmart. (I believe Walmart does have a more natural offering, perhaps through the Spectrum company, but it will likely depend on your area.)

What People Are Saying

Most notably, coconut oil is being purported as a cure for Alzheimer’s disease as well as Parkinson’s (among many, many others). The above two have been touted so much so that most people are asking their doctors about it—this has naturally lead to the medical community taking note. If you have some time, you should really check out the linked article. It goes into some details about the woman who treated her husband’s Alzheimer’s with coconut oil and kept detailed records of it, as well as the controlled experiments the medical community intends to undertake.
At this time, since there hasn’t been any documented, controlled and scientific experiments and/or research done, most medical professionals don’t feel comfortable recommending coconut oil to their patients. The experiments mentioned in the previous link might change that.

References

Wondergressive: Coconut Oil Reverses the Effects of Alzheimer’s Among Many Other Benefits
WebMD
Huffington Post
Alzheimer’s Doctors Taking Note of Coconut Oil
Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World

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