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4 Surprising Coconut Oil Facts You Should Know About

  • DATE: JUNE 10, 2020


Coconut oil is advertised as the holy grail of cooking oils. Many people include it in their diet in order to benefit from the “promised” health-related properties of this oil. However, one very interesting 2016 survey showed that while over 70% of the interviewed Americans believed coconut oil is healthy, only 35% of the surveyed dietitians agreed to this statement. In fact, the experts considered coconut oil to be about only 10% healthier than hamburgers! [1]

Despite the existence of such research data, consumers didn’t raise the question about the existing gap between coconut oil’s reputation and the opinion of the dietitians.

This article aims to reveal the reasons why this oil is such a controversial cooking ingredient and what are its real properties and potential effects on your body and health, according to research evidence.

Let’s get started!

  1. Is it healthy to eat coconut oil?

  2. Can coconut oil harm you?

  3. Is there a difference between refined and virgin coconut oil?

    1. Nutrient value

    2. Smoke point

  4. Should you eat coconut oil every day?

Is it healthy to eat coconut oil?

According to Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, a large number of the popular health benefits of coconut oil refer to a special formulation of oil, which is known as medium-chain-triglycerides (also called MCT). [2]

According to recent evidence, those fatty acids can be related to various positive health effects, including [3] :

  • Supported weight management and weight loss (as part of complex weight loss plan)

  • Reduced risk of obesity

  • Directly utilized for energy by the body

  • Improved symptoms of some gastrointestinal disorders (as they do not require pancreatic enzymes to be digested)

  • Reduced risk of heart disease

  • Improved memory in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease

However, the coconut oil you typically find in stores is composed of 90% saturated fats, including lauric acid, which accounts for about 50% of its fat content. When metabolized, lauric acid may behave like both medium and long-chain triglycerides. [4] Or, in other words, the health effects of MCT oil cannot be directly applied to the regular store-bought coconut oil. [5]

In that sense, both refined and unrefined popular coconut oil brands cannot be associated with obesity management, heart, or brain disease (contrary to popular beliefs).

*Yet, you can find MTC coconut oil in some specialized stores. But you have to look for it!

On the other hand, evidence suggests that the lauric acid and polyphenols in coconut oil may have antimicrobial effects on the body, which may be beneficial in the prevention of diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungus (like inflammatory acne). [6] Besides, compared to other saturated fats, lauric acid has been associated with least fat accumulation. [7]

Can coconut oil harm you?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, coconut oil contains about 90% saturated fat, which makes it more saturated than butter (containing 64% saturated fats) and beef fat (40%). Isn’t that surprising! [8]

The main controversy around the health effects of regular coconut oil consumption is closely related to its highly saturated composition. Various studies suggest that regular consumption of saturated fats as primary fat sources may increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol, increase the risk of heart diseases, and eventually lead to chronic hypertension. [9]

According to the latest evidence (January 2020), the consumption of coconut oil can lead to a significant increase in LDL cholesterol and a slight increase in HDL cholesterol compared to nontropical plant oils (like sunflower oil). Besides, the study found no significant effect on blood sugar, inflammation, and fat storage caused by coconut oil consumption. [10]

This way, we can conclude that coconut oil consumption may be associated with the adverse health effects of other cooking ingredients and foods rich in saturated fats.

The advice from Claudia Hleap (Registered Dietitian): After looking at all the evidence evaluating the health benefits of coconut oil, many dietitians have concluded that there aren’t many. Refined coconut oil is a great oil to use when cooking at high temperatures due to its high smoke point, but other than that there is not much to gain from consuming coconut oil. There is room in the diet for the consumption of saturated fats in moderation, but it is best to prioritize healthy unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, whenever possible.

Is there a difference between refined and virgin coconut oil?

There are two main differences between virgin and refined coconut oil:

1. Nutrient value

Compared to unrefined (virgin) coconut oil, refined oil is far more processed, as it passes through drying and “bleaching” processes. In that sense, such treatment can reduce the concentration of polyphenols and MCT fatty acids (which are limited anyways). This way, refined coconut oil can be associated with reduced nutrient value and healthy properties. [11]

2. Smoke point

Every cooking oil remains stable (it doesn’t change its chemical composition) as long as it’s not heated up above a specific temperature. If overheated, the oil reaches its “smoke point” and breaks down into free fatty acids. In that process, harmful chemical compounds may also be released, which can reduce the quality of the cooking oil and impose some health risks. [12] In that sense, the higher the smoking point, the better.

However, virgin coconut oil has a lower smoke point (177 C) than refined oil (232 C). This way, processed oil is much more suitable for frying, sautéing, and baking at a high temperature as it remains stable. [13]

Just for comparison, the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil varies between 163 C and 190 C.

Should you eat coconut oil every day?

Saturated fats (including coconut oil) are part of a diverse and balanced diet. However, as the overconsumption of such fats can be associated with significant health risks, the American Heart Association recommends limiting their consumption to a minimum. [14]

The more specific recommendations suggest that saturated fats should account for no more than 6% of the total daily calories, and the other consumed fats should come from unsaturated sources (like seafood, olive oil, sesame seed oil, fish oil).

For example, by substituting coconut oil with extra virgin olive oil, we can help our body to improve its cholesterol and triglyceride profile and reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and derivative diseases.


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