Is coconut oil good or bad for your health?

Health Adviser at Bupa UK
16 July 2018

As you may have heard, everybody is going nuts about coconuts! More specifically, coconut oil. It’s become so popular in recent years that one health food chain sold six tonnes across the UK in just one month. But what we all want to know is:

Is coconut oil good for our health? And is it worth buying? Read on to find out the facts.

Coconut oil on wooden spoon

What is coconut oil?

Coconut oil is mostly made up of saturated fat, around 85 to 90 per cent in fact. We’ve known for a long time that foods high in saturated fat have a negative effect on your health. Particularly on your risk of cardiovascular disease, for example a stroke or heart attack.

Guidelines recommend that you only have small amounts of this type of fat in your diet. So this may make you wonder: should I eat coconut oil if it’s high in saturated fat? What’s the difference between coconut oil and other sources of saturated fat, for example butter or palm oil? And should I use coconut oil instead of healthy unsaturated oils, such as olive oil?

Is coconut oil good for your health?

Champions of coconut oil believe that the difference between coconut oil and other types of saturated fat lies within the specific fatty acids found in coconut oil. It’s thought that coconut oil behaves differently when compared with other foods high in saturated fat (eg butter) and so is better for your health.

This is because some types of fatty acids have a simpler way of digesting, absorbing and metabolising (burning as a fuel source) in your body. This is due to differences in their structure. Because of this, it’s been suggested that coconut oil may help to improve cardiovascular health, encourage weight loss, reduce appetite, and improve energy levels. But it’s not clear yet if coconut oil does actually act in this way.

What does the evidence say?

At the moment, there isn’t very much available research that supports the above claims. The majority of studies which have claimed these benefits have only been done with animals. There has been a small amount of studies with human participants, but these have been done using only one part of the coconut oil. This means that more studies need to be done on the food product as a whole so that we can fully understand the suggested benefits.

One thing we do know about coconut oil, is that during cooking it’s very stable at high temperatures because of its high content of saturated fat. This is a good thing in terms of taste and quality, and also means it doesn’t produce any toxins when cooking it.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, if you enjoy the taste of coconut oil, then as with butter and other foods high in saturated fat, you should use it every now and then and in small amounts. Just remember, with the limited amount of research, including coconut oil in your diet may not lead to major health improvements. Another important thing to remember is that people’s responses to dietary fats can vary from person to person. So continuing to choose unsaturated fatty oils such as rapeseed or olive oil is the best option. Unsaturated fatty oils have long established benefits and are recommended as part of a healthy diet by the Department of Health and British Heart Foundation.

For me, the best answer to this debate, as with any food product, is that your diet should be all about moderation, balance and variety! Unfortunately, a sole product will not be the “magic bullet” to your health. If you do choose to use coconut oil, I recommend being mindful of your portion sizes and keeping it to around the size of your thumb.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health and a view of any future health risks. You'll receive a personal lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a happier, healthier you.

Sarah Tipping
Health Adviser at Bupa UK

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