Coconut Oil – Is it as Healthy as it’s being Marketed?

Only a few years ago, coconut oil was unknown to the general public. With the current trend around vegan nutrition, coconut oil is experiencing a hype: it’s no longer restricted to health food stores, you can find it even in your neighbourhood supermarket.

And if we believe all the articles and websites, coconut is THE superfood against pretty much everything: helps you to lose weight, protects against heart disease, reduces abdominal fat, can treat Alzheimer’s, generally improves memory and brain function, cures urinary tract and kidney infections, boosts the immune system, let alone all the beauty benefits.

We wanted to know whether theses promises are true and did some research.

In Switzerland you can buy two different products, “Kokosöl” or “Kokosfett”. Coconut oil is derived from coconut pulp, if it’s labelled “native” it is of high quality and cold pressed. Coconut fat is sold as solid vegetable fat. It is a processed product, hardened and neutral in taste. Some of us might remember “Palmin”, the white, solid bricks our mums used for baking in the 1970ies and 1980ies. From a nutrition perspective, there is no doubt that native coconut oil is of higher quality than coconut fat.

Fats in coconut oil

Coconut oil is similar to butter, it is hard at room temperature but melts in temperature above 26degrees Celsius. 90% of coconut fats are saturated fats. Most vegetable oils contain primarily unsaturated fats. Now, saturated fats have always been blamed by nutrition and heart disease authorities to increase blood cholesterol levels. This can harm blood vessels and the heart and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and stroke. Generally, the recommendation is to keep saturated fat consumption below 10% of the daily calorie intake.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in February now questions these recommendations. The conclusion of the research is that “the advantages of unsaturated fats might not what we assumed”. Saturated fats are not good fats, but they might not be as pad as their reputation: they should be part of a balanced diet. In regard to coconut oil, it is assumed that lauric acid in it might increase the blood levels of HDL-cholesterol, the good cholesterol, which protects the blood vessels. At the moment however, this is an assumption only.

Vitamins and trace elements in coconut oil

Another claim is that coconut is particularly high in vitamins. We did some research looking at levels of various vitamins and trace elements to learn which fat contains which levels and we a little surprised at times ourselves. All values mentioned are per 100g.

For example, butter has the highest vitamin A content (650 µg), followed by olive oil (157 µg). Coconut oil contains no vitamin A. Actually, it turned out that coconut oil contains no vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12, C or D. But it does contain vitamin E (1.82 mg). That however does not compare to the vitamin E levels in olive oil and butter (11.91 mg and 20.22 mg respectively). Only butter contains folic acid (3 µg), neither coconut oil nor olive oil contained any.

The results for trace elements were similarly “disappointing”. Butter had the highest levels of calcium, potassium, magnesium but also for sodium. Only for phosphorus coconut oil topped the other two. Phosphorus, a trace element in nearly all foods, is needed for the growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues and cells in our body.

So our conclusion is that the claims about coconut oil have no scientific back up. We love coconut oil and use the native form in curries, cakes and for hair care. We love its taste and smell but we are aware that it can’t perform miracles. We order our coconut oil from our partner Free From Supermarket; they sell a variety of brands and sizes.

Photo credit (c) Can Stock Photo