Does coconut oil hold a place in a healthy, real food diet? Absolutely.
For years, coconut oil was painted as the bad guy amongst mainstream dietitians and nutritionists. As a cooking oil high in saturated fats, it was demonised by many health communities.
Fortunately, many researchers and ancestrally inspired diets now recognise coconut for what it is: a superfood with a host of health benefits. Below, we use science to answer the question, ‘Is coconut good for you?’ We dive into the benefits of coconut oil, the healthiest part of the coconut and how to include coconut oil in your diet.
Why Conventional Nutritionists Demonise Coconut
First, a backstory — what do nutritionists have against coconut?
Coconut is made up almost entirely of saturated fat. In fact, coconut oil is 90% saturated fat, more than butter, beef fat (tallow) or lard . Here's why that leads to many misconceptions surrounding coconut:
Circa the '80s and '90s, scientists started to blame saturated fat for … well, just about anything. They stated that saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol levels, and therefore eating coconut would lead to an increased risk of heart disease, weight gain and stroke. This led to a surge in the consumption of processed, unsaturated fats and the low-fat craze of the 1990s.
But here's the thing: When consumers started replacing real, whole foods — like whole coconut and coconut oil — with processed seed oils (think canola oil, corn oil and rapeseed oil), obesity rates skyrocketed . Consumers replaced healthy dietary fats with processed foods and they were no longer eating real foods. Instead, they were consuming processed, inflammatory seed oils, which wreaked havoc on human health.
Is Coconut Good for You? Health Benefits of Coconut
Fortunately, the low-fat fads are finally dwindling down. Humans began to realise that following an ancestrally inspired, healthy eating plan centered on real food is far more beneficial than eating packaged, processed, low-fat products.
In reality, coconut is good for you. Coconut comes with a number of nutritional benefits, described below. (Please note: Some wellness benefits vary depending on which part of the coconut you're consuming. Below, you'll see references to coconut milk, water, meat and oil — all with different benefits.)
1. It Can Actually Lower Cholesterol Levels
Contrary to the very (very) popularly held belief that coconut causes high cholesterol, coconut oil has actually been shown to improve blood lipid levels. Research shows that consuming virgin coconut oil lowers cholesterol and improves triglyceride levels, thereby improving heart health .
2. It Can Help Trim Your Waistline
Many conventional nutritionists advise against the consumption of coconut oil, believing it increases your obesity risk. However, science doesn't back up these claims.
In one study, participants supplemented with either soyabean oil or coconut oil for 12 weeks. Energy intake remained the same for both groups, yet those who consumed coconut oil showed a decrease in their waist circumference .
3. It Can Rid the Body of Free Radicals
Oxidative stress is extremely harmful to human health. Free radicals can damage your cells, proteins and DNA, which leads to a host of health ailments.
Fortunately, coconut oil is filled with polyphenolic antioxidants. This can reduce oxidative stress, lower your lipid levels and reduce inflammation in the body .
4. It Can Help You Burn Fat
In addition, when supplemented with a high-fat, low-carb diet — like the keto diet — your body can quickly convert MCTs into ketones. Since MCTs are quickly broken down into energy by the liver, this can help you enter the fat-burning, metabolic state known as ketosis.
Ensure that you opt for a clean source of MCT which has been steam distilled and avoids the use of seed oils or chemicals for filtering. Hunter & Gather MCT oil is triple steam distilled and from 100% coconuts.
5. It Can Help Reduce Blood Pressure Levels
Hypertension — or chronically high blood pressure — is one of the number one biomarkers of cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, consuming the fatty acids in coconut oil can help lower blood pressure levels. In one study, consuming coconut oil for 30 days was shown to decrease blood pressure and oxidative stress in rats .
6. It Can Help You Stay Hydrated
Sometimes, drinking water isn't enough to stay hydrated. Consuming electrolytes can help restore your fluid and mineral balance lost due to exercise — and coconut can help.
Fresh coconut water is filled with electrolytes, which can help restore hydration levels. In fact, research shows that coconut water is more efficient at restoring your fluid balance than water alone .
7. It's Filled With Vitamins and Minerals
If you look at the nutrition facts of coconut, even conventional dietitians would be impressed. Coconut flesh is rich in fibre, vitamins C, E and numerous B vitamins, and minerals including iron, selenium, manganese, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus .
8. It Contains Antifungal Properties
Coconut contains a specific type of fatty acid called lauric acid. Lauric acid converts into a compound called monolaurin in the body, which has antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties . You can utilise coconut oil (not MCT oil as this has the lauric acid removed) to support your overall health due to the antifungal properties.
What's the Healthiest Part of the Coconut?
As we briefly touched on above, there are different parts of the coconut that offer different benefits. Coconuts grow on a coconut tree, or ‘cocos nucifera’. Coconut oil is extracted from the edible white flesh lining the inside of the coconut palm (also called the coconut ‘kernel’).
Consuming coconut oil — from coconut meat — has been shown to promote weight loss, provide antioxidant benefits, reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure .
How Do You Get More Coconut Oil in Your Diet?
What's the best way to get more coconut oil in your diet? Cook with it, of course!
Coconut oil has a smoke point of 204 degrees Celsius, making it suitable to cook at high temperatures (unlike other popular oils, like olive oil). You can saute some veg, sear a steak or create a delicious morning omelet using coconut oil. In addition, coconut oil can be used as a dairy-free alternative to butter in some recipes. Why not pop a spoonful into your morning coffee alongside MCT oil to make a delicious dairy-free fat coffee too?
How to Find a High-Quality Coconut Oil
While a conventional nutritionist may say otherwise, coconut is good for you.
Coconut oil is scientifically shown to reduce blood pressure, trim your waistline, act as an antioxidant and reduce inflammation in the body. In addition, while outdated research says that coconut causes heart disease, new studies show this could not be further from the truth.
To get more coconut oil in your diet, you can use it as a cooking oil or as a dairy-free butter substitute. For a high-quality MCT coconut oil, try Hunter & Gather Coconut MCT Oil in a number of real food recipes.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.