Coconut oil - a second look
Coconut oil getting too popular?
Plant oils and human evolution
Problems caused by coconut oil
Is coconut oil harmful? Can coconut oil cause health problems?
Coconut oil getting too popular?
I have re-written the Grow Youthful web page on coconut oil, after discovering a couple of research papers that show that coconut oil is not good for everyone.
In 2016 the British Nutrition Foundation concluded that there is not enough evidence to make any health claims for coconut oil. (3)
For many years I have been using coconut as one of my main cooking oils, but I am now starting to question whether it could be the cause of some ailments rather than the remedy for them. In the last few months I have cut out consuming coconut oil, replacing it with tallow or butter. I feel better for it.
One of the first reasons my red flashing warning light switched on is that coconut products are getting too popular. When every health and foodie website is selling it, and especially when a myriad of coconut products are sold in supermarkets, then take a long look at what is going on.
Coconut milk is part of a traditional diet of people who live near the ocean in countries close to the equator. They make coconut milk by hand, using fresh coconuts. Today however, tins of coconut milk are sold in every store, and many of these tinned milks are dirty foods without integrity with all sorts of additives.
Coconut water is a huge seller in Australian supermarkets. When I'm in Bali I love to buy a fresh coconut to drink the juice and scoop out the jelly with a spoon. But the idea of drinking a carton of coconut water that was prepared in a factory makes my stomach turn.
Coconut flour? Well, it may be a useful new kind of flour for those on a gluten-free diet, but it is a relatively recent invention. It may also be very high in sugar. I could not find evidence that it was ever a part of any traditional diet of people living in the tropics.
Plant oils and human evolution
Generously oily plants are actually extremely rare in nature. Plant-derived oils were not part of the diet of most Paleolithic people. Instead, they got almost all their fats from animal sources. Fat animals and fatty fish were prized. The human body evolved to thrive on animal-derived oils.
Today, there are only three rich sources of natural plant oil that are easily available to most people: coconuts, avocados and olives. Paleolithic people who evolved on tropical coasts would have used coconuts as a food and thrived on the oil content of the flesh. However, it is unlikely they would have been able to separate the oil, store it and carry it. Most early humans did not have access to coconuts.
Avocados evolved in parts of South America, and prior to the breeding of avocados, the wild fruits were small, bitter and had a low oil content. So again, not a part of the early human diet. A similar argument applies to olives. Wild olives, although more widespread in Mediterranean climates, were small, bitter and unappetising.
Nuts are another source of plant oils. But once again, they were not available in large quantities to our paleolithic ancestors, and most were nothing like the large, beautiful, oily, crunchy nuts that we enjoy today. Prior to the selective breeding of nuts, they could be a bit toxic and were small and hard to pick.
Plant-derived oils which are cheaply and easily available in supermarkets do not occur in nature. The rows of golden vegetable oils lined up in your supermarket are the output of a factory. They are horribly toxic, and early humans certainly did not consume them or evolve any way to digest them. Omega-6 oils like canola, cottonseed, soy, sunflower, safflower, peanut, flax and other seed and legume oils are a modern day curse.
Problems caused by coconut oil.
- Inflammation (systemic or throughout the body). The lauric acid in coconut oil may be inflammatory. Lauric acid is usually more than 50% of the content of coconut oil. A 2015 study (1) showed that the equivalent of two tablespoons of coconut oil per day have a direct impact on the central nervous system autoimmunity. Those with systemic inflammation such as intestinal inflammation or multiple sclerosis should try eliminating coconut oil to see if this makes a difference.
- Microbiome changes. The above study (1) also observed harmful changes in the microbiome of the mice. Some of the good bacteria were reduced, promoting bacterial diseases in the test subjects. Interestingly, the harmful effects were reduced or disappeared when the mice were fed a high-vegetable diet along with the coconut oil. The reason - vegetables are converted by the bacteria in the gut into short chain fatty acids. SCFAs are highly beneficial and neutralise the harmful effects of MCTs. Other studies show insignificant changes (good or bad) or harmful changes. (2, 3)
- Insomnia. After years of having difficulty sleeping, a few people find that consumption of coconut oil was the cause of their insomnia.
If you continue to consume coconut oil, the best way to counter any negative effects is to eat lots of servings of a variety of vegetables (and to a lesser extent fruits) each day. This will let you get away with some amount of coconut oil or coconut milk in your diet. The SFCAs and fibre bulk help balance out the potentially damaging effects of the MCTs, while still allowing you to get all the benefits of the fat.
Your comments about any of your experiences - positive or negative - with your use of coconut oil are welcome at Grow Youthful. I am always curious about your use of and experience with natural remedies, and your feedback is very welcome.
1. Aiden Haghikia, Stefanie Jorg, Alexander Duscha, Johannes Berg, Arndt Manzel, Anne Waschbisch, Anna Hammer, De-Hyung Lee, Caroline May, Nicola Wilck, Andras Balogh, Annika I. Ostermann, Nils Helge Schebb, Denis A. Akkad, Diana A. Grohme, Markus Kleinewietfeld, Stefan Kempa, Jan Thone, Seray Demir, Dominik N. Muller, Ralf Gold, et al.
Dietary Fatty Acids Directly Impact Central Nervous System Autoimmunity via the Small Intestine.
Immunity, volume 43, Issue 4, 20 October 2015, Pages 817-829.
2. Manohar V, Echard B, Perricone N et al. In vitro and in vivo effects of two coconut oils in comparison to monolaurin on Staphylococcus aureus: rodent studies. 2013. Journal of Medicinal Food 16: 499-503.
3. S. Lockyer, S. Stanner. Coconut oil - a nutty idea? British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin, Volume 41, Issue 1, March 2016. Pages 42-54. DOI: 10.1111/nbu.12188.