The Facts about Coconut Oil

Contributors: Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
Coocoo for Coconut Oil: Think Again

belchonock/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Here’s a summary of some of the evidence behind a few of the more common health claims.

So, What's the Truth?

Just like butter, coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Saturated fats may cause blood cholesterol levels to rise. They may promote the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries and increase your risk of developing heart disease. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise limiting your intake of saturated fat to less than 10% of your daily calories.

Coconut Oil and Health

Here's a summary of some of the evidence behind a few of the more common health claims.

Helping with Weight Loss

Some weight loss programs tout coconut oil because it contains medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Advocates for MCTs claim it promotes weight loss, increases metabolism and reduces belly bloat. However, the research is limited. These claims are based on few studies done with a small number of participants. Plus, both the amount of weight and inches lost by study participants were very small. In some of the studies, participants made other changes that could have promoted those changes. For example, they ate fewer calories and exercised more. So, at this time, more research is needed.

Controlling Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes causes the level of glucose, or sugar, in your blood to rise above the normal level. Animal studies suggest that coconut oil may be beneficial for managing blood sugar. However, findings in animal studies may not be the same for humans. And, there currently is limited evidence supporting the value of coconut oil for people with Type 2 diabetes. If you have Type 2 diabetes, treat coconut oil like any other saturated fat and limit your intake by choosing foods that are higher in unsaturated fat.

Reversing Alzheimer's Disease

The link between brain health and coconut oil stems from the MCTs. Glucose, which your body gets from the foods you eat, is the main source of energy for the brain. Some researchers believe that the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's disease do not efficiently break down glucose for energy. Therefore, their brains need an alternative source of energy. One theory is that the MCTs found in coconut oil may be able to provide that backup energy source. While this sounds encouraging, at this point, research is minimal.

And, so?

What is known is that coconut oil is high in saturated fat. And, diets high in saturated fat may raise cholesterol levels in the body, which could increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Research shows that replacing saturated fats, such as coconut oil, with polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, is beneficial for overall health.