Do you remember the fast-talking peddlers often depicted in old Western movies, who entertained their audience while selling bottles of miracle medicine that was supposed to cure everything from lice and snake bites to lumbago and lameness? Most of those "medicines" were simply ineffective and harmless; many of them, however, were potentially dangerous and contained herbal concoctions mixed with generous amounts of strong liquor or opiates which often caused customers to become addicted.
That’s what came to mind when I read the Huffington Post article Coconut Oil Is Over, RIP Coconut Oil (link below). In her rather angry article (which is something that tends to raise a red flag for me), Dr. Laura Thomas says that the coconut oil hype is an example of “marketing getting one over on science.” She mentions the tall claims that coconut oil helps you lose weight, reduces cholesterol, prevents dementia and boosts the immune system, to name a few. She then proceeds to quote the British Nutrition Foundation and their findings concerning the claim that coconut oil promotes weight loss. After reviewing available studies, the BNF reports that “there’s insufficient, good quality evidence at present to conclude that the consumption of coconut oil leads to a reduction in adiposity (fat).” According to Dr. Thomas, the studies used to substantiate such claims were flawed and are examples of “bad science” being used to push tons of coconut oil on unsuspecting consumers. She also mentions on her article that there are no studies showing any “immune-boosting” or “brain-Boosting” effects of coconut oil. And she ends by telling you to keep coconut oil “the f*ck out of your smoothies.”
On the other hand, the article Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Coconut Oil (medically reviewed by Kris Gunnars, BSc), seems to disagree. Among other things, the author points out that “coconut oil contains fatty acids with powerful medicinal properties”; “populations that eat a lot of coconut oils are healthy” (going off on a tangent, I remembered watching a Jackie Chan movie where he saves a guy from dying in a desert by using coconut water in a make-shift I.V.!); “coconut oil can help you burn more fat”; “coconut oil can kill harmful microorganisms”; “coconut oil can reduce your hunger, helping you eat less”; “the fatty acids in coconut oil are turned into ketones, which can reduce seizures”; “coconut oil can improve cholesterol levels”; “coconut oil can protect hair against damage, moisturize skin and function as sunscreen”; “the fatty acids in coconut oil can boost brain function in Alzheimer’s patients”; and last but not least, “coconut oil can help you lose fat, especially the harmful abdominal fat.” Gunnars ends the article by affirming: “I personally cook almost everything I eat in coconut oil and my health has never been better.”
There are countless such articles online, authored by information providers who have supposedly checked the facts; all heralding the health benefits of coconut oil. Many of them mention the great benefits of coconut oil for Alzheimer’s patients, for instance. One example is the article Alzheimer’s Treatment: New Alzheimer’s Drugs Continue to Fail Where Coconut Oil Shines. (please see link below), which lists a lot of research and testimonies, and claims that “the testimonies of success in using coconut oil to treat Alzheimer’s have been nothing less than remarkable, especially considering the widespread failure of the drug companies to find drugs that can effectively deal with this disease.” The thing is, this information comes from coconutoil.com, a website that seems to have been created with the purpose of promoting coconut oil. And you might be familiar with Dr. Mary T. Newport, who decided to give her husband coconut oil to treat Alzheimer’s, supposedly with amazing results (please see the link to a short video below; the full-length video is available on youtube.com). But the website cited on the video is coconutketones.com, which might also be another coconut oil promoting site.
In addition to the marketing aspect of the available information, Dr. Thomas affirms that “a lot of the available studies “are observational, meaning we’re just looking to see what happens - you can’t prove cause and effect from this type of study.”
If Dr. Thomas is the one who’s right, maybe my husband and I should also be angry, as we bought into the coconut oil rave and personally use coconut oil in generous quantities for cooking* (as a medium/low smoke point oil, so we don’t use it for frying or other high heat cooking methods; please see oils smoke point chart on the article below). Except that neither my husband nor I seem to be suffering the potential harmful effects of cooking with coconut oil. And we absolutely love it. I also use coconut oil once a week as a deeply moisturizing skin mask as per my esthetician’s suggestion, due to the fact that I have very sensitive skin and usually have trouble with commercial face creams. It works very well for me (BTW, if you’d like to try it, but are not sure if it will feel or smell too overwhelming, you can try applying a thing layer of coconut oil and then your regular moisturizer on top).
We’re all aware that, over the years, many foods have been “villainized” in comparison to their competition, to only end up by being proven as the better (or less harmful) option, after all. For instance: a few decades ago, studies came out showing that butter was full of saturated fat and very, very bad for you; margarine and other butter substitutes were supposed to be much healthier. A few years later, margarine and other butter substitutes were proven to be much worse than butter due to the harmful effects of unnatural trans fat such as hydrogenated oils, in addition to the dozens of chemicals they use (including yellow die to make it look like butter). Butter had a come back as a better option, especially if organic and consumed in moderation. A similar trend happened with sugar and artificial sweeteners, among other foods and products.
The problem is: With the mass media world constantly feeding us (often incorrect) information, how can we tell what is what? In our household, here’s what we do:
1) We try to do some research ourselves and get as much information as we can from reputable professional sources on both sides of the issue. If at all possible, when we read about a “scientific study,” we try to find out who funded it (a very hard thing to do, since the moneys behind it might reveal the vested interests, if any, on the results of the study).
2) Even if the research checks out, we take it all in with a grain of salt… And we make sure to check with our doctor or other healthcare professionals for reasons why a specific substance might be beneficial or harmful to us.
3) If we decide to try it out, we pay attention to how we are personally affected by it, so that we can decide if it works for us. For example, I know for a fact that I do noticeably well on real butter (in moderation), but do very badly on margarine (digestive issues, weight gain, low energy level, etc).
4) We also make sure to have a wellness exam with a complete blood panel and other tests at least once a year (or more, if any issue comes up). That’s how we’ve been able to ascertain that our use of coconut oil hasn’t increased our cholesterol levels or caused other health issues.
Final Thought: So maybe coconut oil can’t indeed cure everything and should be used with discretion in the kitchen, especially by people who need to watch their intake of saturated fats (of the “good” and “bad” kind). But let’s not get carried away and go for the tar and feathers just yet. Maybe coconut oil does have some positive effects which haven’t been properly researched yet. Plus, in addition to its uniquely delicious flavor which makes it a favorite for cooking, this is an amazingly versatile oil that has countless uses, including beauty/hair and around the home. So, as with most things in life, enjoy… with moderation.
Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 08/16/2016
* Two of our favorite ways to use coconut oil for cooking are:
1) Thai Baked Salmon: spread some coconut oil on a baking dish; place salmon fillets; season both sides to taste with curry, turmeric, coconut sugar, light soy sauce and anise or fennel seeds; top with a touch of cayenne pepper and a dab of coconut oil per fillet; bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
2) Sweet Potatoes With Coconut Oil: dice and steam sweet potatoes or yams; toss lightly with coconut oil.
Coconut Oil Is Over, RIP Coconut Oil, by Laura Thomas, PhD
Alzheimer’s Treatment: New Alzheimer’s Drugs Continue to Fail Where Coconut Oil Shines
The Science Behind Coconut Oil As An Alzheimer's Treatment - Dr. Mary Newport
Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
The Top More Than 10 Evidence-Based Benefits Of Coconut Oil
101 Best Coconut Oil Uses And Benefits
Cooking Fats 101: What’s A Smoke Point And Why Does It Matter?