by Brian and Marianita Shilhavy
As coconut oil becomes more and more popular, many people are now writing and blogging about coconut oil stating many things regarded as true about coconut oil. Let’s take a look at the most common myths currently being spread throughout the Internet regarding coconut oil.
Coconut Oil Myth #1: Only Virgin Coconut Oil is healthy – Refined Coconut Oil is still bad for you
FACT: ALL coconut oil you can buy online or in stores is healthy. Anytime you can purchase coconut oil, you are purchasing the healthiest oil you can cook with, since all coconut oils have medium chain fatty acids that are healthy and that do not break down when heated. The other options offered in today’s market for cooking oils are more than likely less healthy than coconut oil, and might even become toxic if used in cooking.
The only kind of coconut oil that is not healthy is hydrogenated coconut oil. But hydrogenated coconut oil is not sold today in the U.S. as a dietary oil, so you hardly need to worry about buying it by mistake. Coconut oil is close to 90% saturated, with a melting point of about 76 degrees F. In the past there was a market for hydrogenated coconut oil, a process where the 10% of coconut oil that is unsaturated was hydrogenated to make its melting point even higher. This was most common in tropical cultures where the ambient air temperatures tend to make coconut oil a liquid, and where a solid fat was needed to act like a shortening. But with the recent information on the negative effects of hydrogenated oils, it is very uncommon today. If it does exist anywhere, it would be as an ingredient, not a dietary oil you would buy for cooking. So scaring people into thinking that they might be possibly buying harmful hydrogenated coconut oil as a cooking oil is a myth, since there is no market for this kind of coconut oil.
As far as refined coconut oils, the most common method used to refine coconut oil in coconut oil producing countries is via the RBD process: Refined Bleached and Deodorized. This process renders a neutral flavor and smell due to a steam deodorization process. The “bleaching” part does not involve bleach like you use in your laundry! It is a clay that is used to filter the oil of impurities. Some of the nutrients will more than likely be lost in the refining process, but it does not make the oil unhealthy. If you can find out if the refined coconut oil was refined using solvent extracts or through “physical refining,” choose the physically refined coconut oil. There is some concern that oils using solvent extracts could leave residues in the oil. But even so, those residues are probably very small if present at all, so even these coconut oils would be healthier that toxic trans fats or polyunsaturated oils for cooking.
Coconut Oil Myth #2: I cannot use coconut oil because I am allergic to coconut oil
FACT: Most food allergies are due to the inability to digest proteins, such as gluten (found in wheat), casein (found in dairy), protein found in tree nuts, etc. The coconut is technically a tree nut, but protein is found in the meat of the coconut, not in the oil.
Therefore, if one has problems digesting or eating coconut oil, it is highly unlikely that it is due to an “allergy.” It is more likely due to not being able to digest fats well, or possibly to the detoxification properties of coconut oil which can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, skin eruptions, etc. These are typically NOT allergic reactions, and can be minimized or even eliminated altogether by reducing the amount of coconut oil one eats to very small amounts until the symptoms don’t occur, and then gradually increase the amount over time.
Coconut Oil Myth #3: Coconut oil is good for certain conditions (like Alzheimer’s and Dementia), but long-term effects are not known and there is a risk for heart disease because coconut oil is a saturated fat
FACT: There are plenty of epidemiological studies on coconut oil in native populations, and saturated fat has never been proven to cause heart disease. Sadly, this myth has been around a long time and still persists today, even though it is not true!
The benefits of a high-fat ketogenic diet in curing epilepsy was first developed at the Mayo Clinic in the 1920s and used extensively at John Hopkins Hospital. But as the lipid theory of heart disease gained popularity after the 1950s and influenced the government to adopt a low-fat dietary guideline, children and parents who benefited from the high-fat ketogenic diet were frightened into believing that if they continued such a diet, it would lead to heart disease.
Today, the ketogneic effects of coconut oil are well-known and coconut oil’s tremendous impact on those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia are well documented, and can no longer be denied, just as the ketogenic diet has cured epilepsy for many years now. Unfortunately, the myth of saturated fat and by implication coconut oil causing heart disease is a myth that continues today, scaring people who receive tremendous benefits from consuming coconut oil into thinking they may have a higher risk of heart disease if they continue such a diet. The lipid theory of heart disease, however, is losing popularity in the light of real science.
One of the most exhaustive studies ever published on saturated fat and heart disease was published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition titled: “Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease.” The study reviewed many other studies over a period of 5 to 23 years covering 347,747 subjects. Their conclusion: “A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.” The abstract is found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648 You can read more research on saturated fats here.
As far as coconut oil specifically, Dr. Conrado S. Dayrit in the Philippines published a comprehensive study looking at the evidence of saturated fat from coconut oil and cardiovascular disease in populations consuming large amounts of saturated fat in the countries of the Philippines, Polynesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia and found no link between coconut oil consumption and heart disease. His study was published in 2003 in the Philippine Journal of Cardiology:http://www.coconutoil.com/DayritCardiology.pdf
More recently, Dr. Janaki Gooneratne in Sri Lanka conducted what is probably the largest study ever undertaken examining the relationship between coconut oil, cholesterol, and heart disease. Her research studied almost 1000 people in Sri Lanka and included factors such as socio-demographic data, family history of disease and lifestyle.
She studied associations between selected heart disease risk factors and coconut oil intake using the Chi-square test, and further examined the data in a multivariate model adjusting for potential confounding variables. The data was analyzed using SPSS statistical software. The results of this extensive research concluded that consumption of coconut oil at levels up to 16.4% of total energy per day had no heart disease risk on the local population. (Note: for a standard 2000 calorie diet that would equate to about 2.5 tablespoons of coconut oil a day.) Dr. Goonerante believes that this extensive research is one of the first studies of this magnitude on dietary coconut oil ever conducted anywhere in the world. Read more about her research on coconut oil here.
As coconut oil continues to gain popularity and continues to have a greater impact on people’s health, often producing better results than expensive pharmaceutical drugs, and without all the side effects, expect these attacks and myths to continue, and probably new ones to pop up. But just remember that coconut oil is a natural food that has nourished billions of people around the world for thousands of years. It cannot be patented, and hence it is unlikely there will ever be clinical studies funded of the same type that pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars to complete for patenting and getting their drugs approved by the FDA. Therefore, it is unlikely that the FDA will ever approve any health claims for coconut oil. But that does not mean that there is no science or evidence behind the claims of coconut oil. That is a myth!!
About the authors: Unlike many people who write about coconut oil by simply reading about it, Marianita Shilhavy actually grew up on a coconut plantation in the Philippines and in a culture that consumed significant amounts of coconut fat in their diet. She later went on to earn her degree in nutrition and worked as a nutritionist in the Philippines. Brian Shilhavy also lived in the Philippines for several years with Marianita and their 3 children observing firsthand the differences between the diet and health of the younger generation and those of Marianita’s parents’ generation still consuming a traditional diet. This led to years of studying Philippine nutrition and dietary patterns first hand while living in a rural farming community in the Philippines. They are authors of the best-selling book: Virgin Coconut Oil: How it has changed people’s lives and how it can change yours!