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Our Nutritionist Responds to Reader Comments on Coconut Oil


We're breaking down your main assertions, and giving you our most well-informed responses.

Last week, a bit of news gave us the chance to speak our truth (and it felt good!): Coconut oil is one health trend we’ve been ready to wave goodbye to since it first starting trending.

We've never really been sold on the benefits of the sat-fat heavy oil. While it's okay (moderation in everything!) for adding a touch of flavor (to waffles, say), using it all the time just isn't a great idea. And we were glad when the American Heart Association agreed.

Boy, did you have #feelings. Some of you agreed, some disagreed, and many of you had thought-provoking points to make. We read all the comments you posted—and loved hearing from you (#truth)! So when we saw this:

“This was an eye opener until I read the comments. I would like to know what @cookinglight’s response is to these comments.” —Betsy Jones-Burgmeier

...we thought "yaasss," let’s do it! We decided to give our Director of Nutrition, Brierley Horton MS, RD, the opportunity to take some of the most popular or thought-provoking comments (all edited here, for clarity and concision) and offer her response. Thank you all for your comments—and keep them coming!

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“My grandparents ate the same foods. Lots of bread, butter, and meat with few veggies. Grand mom's cholesterol ranged in the high 200’s to low 300’s. Grandpop's was normal. He died of a heart attack. She died from natural causes. Genetics is far more important than any of this.” —Karen Mitchell

BH: Great point, Karen. Genetics and family history play a significant role in your risk for developing heart disease, or other heart-related conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. But they're not the only factors, which is why it's important to eat well—especially if you have a history of heart disease in your family!

“Well this doesn’t apply to me since I don’t use it for cooking. I use it on my skin and hair.” —Myla Jones

That... that's true then. If you're not consuming it, the saturated fat concerns don't apply. And some staffers and editors here say that’s their favorite way to use coconut oil—so by all means, enjoy!

“What about coconut milk?” —Eileen Buhmiller

This is a great question! Both canned coconut milk and refrigerated coconut milk beverages are lower in calories and saturated fat than coconut oil.

One tablespoon of canned coconut milk has about 30 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat. A cup of refrigerated coconut milk beverage has 20 calories and about 1 ½ grams of saturated fat. A tablespoon of coconut oil? It has 120 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat.

Getty: Russ Rohde
“The American Heart Association is a corporation and like any corporation it has investors, sponsors and donors and I can guarantee that none of them are from the coconut oil industry!” —William McCarthy

That they do, William, that they do.

But their paper was based on science, written by well-respected leaders in the medical and nutrition science industries, and published in a peer-reviewed journal. It wasn’t written by investors, sponsors, or donors. And they have a vested interest in providing information that will best help Americans decrease their risk of heart disease—there's no reason to think that's not what they're doing here.

“I have noticed over the last couple of years that a lot of AHA’s research ends with recommendations for drugs over healthy lifestyles, healthy eating and occasional treats that make life fun and worth living.” —Dena Sigma

We haven’t taken inventory of all of the AHA’s recommendations, but they do have recommendations for a healthy lifestyle and diet on their site. But we absolutely agree that the occasional treat is a must, even in the healthiest of diets.

“Coconut oil is healthy as part of the whole coconut. Coconut oil is like drinking the apple juice. I understand the flavor, feel and source is different than lard. I totally get that. But the…solid fat is what makes it stick in our arteries and leads to hyperlipidemia. Our bodies don't actually care if it came from a fruit or a pig.” —Rebecca Russell

Eat the whole coconut (or at least the parts that are edible!) and you’ll get some fiber and protein with the fat, but eat just the coconut oil and all you’ll get is fat.

Eat an apple and you’ll get fiber and good-for-you polyphenols. Drink the juice and you’re just getting (natural) sugar. So your analogy that coconut oil is like apple juice is fair, in that the whole food will give you more of the good stuff.

You also make another good point—it doesn’t matter where the saturated fat comes from—be it from coconut oil, a hamburger, a pastry, or ice cream—your body treats it the same way.

Kelsey Hansen
“I use it on my face, as a massage oil, for teeth oil pulling, and for cooking. I have reduced my intake of processed foods, salts and carbs. Guess what? My numbers are incredible and I’m in the best health of my life.” —Erico Gonzalez

Erico—bravo—for sticking to oil pulling. Seriously. I tried it and couldn’t hack it.

You might be giving coconut oil a little too much credit for being in the best health of your life, though. The fact that you're cutting back on processed foods, salt, and refined carbohydrates probably plays a bigger role there.

“It’s the best moisturizer and eye makeup remover I’ve ever used.” —Susan Fernandez via Facebook

Oookay... Sure! I’m seeing a trend here: coconut oil makes a good beauty product. Have at it!

“Canada oil aka canola oil is not healthy for you.” —Melanie Young

#Sorrynotsorry, Melanie, but no.

Canola oil is a healthy oil choice. It’s an unsaturated, or “healthy,” fat. It’s one of the few oils that’s rich in the omega-3 fat ALA. And research shows it may help lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol. Plus it has a relatively high smoke point, so it's great for cooking with!

“People who jump on the bandwagon every time something new comes out get what they deserve. Why not just use some common sense?” —Susan Sitiko

Oh, Susan, I couldn’t agree more. I’m sending you a virtual high five.


“From all of the studies I have read, the MCTs in coconut oil have shown amazing results for heart health in comparison to other oils. Not all saturated fats are created equal. Coconut oil has so many healing properties and the power of MCTs is undeniable.” —Jessica Theresa

MCTs—short for medium chain triglycerides—have been shown to have some benefits: one study found they slightly boosted calorie burn, another found they increased hormones that quell your appetite and make you feel full, and other studies have looked at MCTs and diabetes management, exercise endurance, and brain function in people with Alzheimer’s.

But, to be honest, the pool of research is still on the small side. And it seems like most of the research has been done with MCT oil supplements, not coconut oil.

There is research, however, on coconut oil and heart health. Unfortunately it's pretty mixed: The tropical oil was found to raise “good” HDL cholesterol yes, but it also boosts your “bad” LDL cholesterol.

“Thank god. Maybe now I’ll stop hearing ‘Put some coconut oil on it’ for everything from eczema to a gunshot wound.” —Ruis Christine

I think it’s better that you say this, Ruis—not me. But I’ll loan you my soapbox.

“I can confirm this study with personal experience. My cholesterol has always been good. But once I started adding coconut oil to my drink (2 teaspoons per day), thinking that it's good for my health, it shot up to 235. After I cut out coconut oil for 3 months, it went back down to 161.” —Fanny Armstrong

Aaaand, I rest my case. Thank you, Fanny!