Coconut oil

Author: 

Micaela Karlsen, MSPH

Question: 

Coconut oil: how bad is it?

Answer: 

Coconut oil is added fat in the diet, just like lard, palm oil, olive oil, butter, margarine, shortening, corn oil, or safflower oil. The balance of saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats differs slightly from fat to fat, but all added fats in the diet bring excess calories without fiber or other accompanying micronutrients. It is extremely easy to overeat when you are eating foods with added fat, because they take up very little room in the stomach compared to how many calories they contain.

The USDA Nutrient Database provides the nutrient composition for coconut oil. Here are some key points:

  • 1 cup contains almost 1900 kcal
  • Just 1 Tbsp contains 117 kcal
  • Vitamin and mineral content is negligible

While a diet low in all types of fat offers the lowest risk for cardiovascular disease, saturated fat in particular is associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil is 87% saturated fat, higher than both lard (39%) and butter (60%).1

Coconut oil seems to have become popular as a "health" food, but there really is little reason to consider it healthy. That being said, small, occasional amounts of coconut might be included in the diet for flavor and taste without contributing additional risk for disease, as long as the quantity does not substantially change the balance of macronutrients in the diet (chronic disease risk is lowest when fat, protein, and carbohydrate contribute roughly 10%, 10-15%, and 75-80% respective to total caloric intake).

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1. Smith, Janice Gorzynski. General, Organic, & Biological Chemistry. McGraw Hill, 2010, New York, NY. Page 578.