Coconut oil: superfood or not?

By Judy Buttriss

- Last updated on GMT

Buttriss: 'Coconut oil is almost 100% fat and so each 100ml provides a massive 900 calories'
Buttriss: 'Coconut oil is almost 100% fat and so each 100ml provides a massive 900 calories'

Related tags: Coconut oil, Nutrition

The nutrition science community is becoming increasingly concerned about the health halo around coconut oil and the risk to health if consumption becomes a regular occurrence.

Like all oils, coconut oil is almost 100% fat and so each 100ml provides a massive 900 calories. But of even more concern, over 90% of this fat is saturated fat, predominantly the cholesterol-raising fatty acids known as lauric, myristic and palmitic acids.

By comparison, butter has just 52g of saturated fat/100g, so it’s just over 50% saturated fat.

To put coconut oil in context, the recommended daily limit (reference intake) for saturated fat is 20g for women and 30g for men.

Two tablespoons a day

If all of this came from coconut oil, it would equate to just over 20ml for women and 30ml (two tablespoons) a day for men, leaving no room for contributions from other nutrient-rich sources of fat such as meat, dairy products and eggs.

So how come this oil has joined the ‘superfood’ league and is this justified?

In an open access paper in the March issue of Nutrition Bulletin​, Lockyer and Stanner discuss the evidence for some of the many claims being made in the popular press and via the internet.

They conclude that all oils are high in calories and that the current dietary advice on oils in relation to obesity prevention and also heart health stands firm.

Unsaturated fatty acids

Foods rich in saturated fat should be replaced with sources of unsaturated fatty acids. Oils made from rapeseed, sunflower seeds and olives are particularly rich in this type of fat and only small amounts are needed.

Use of coconut oil should be limited or not consumed at all. Indeed, the government campaign Change4Life lists coconut oil with foods that they say should be ‘left on the shelf’.

Related topics: Fats & oils, Science

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A biased article

Posted by Yohanes Zega,

The reasons given to support the writer's statement is just not comprehensive! It is too early to justify the goodness of a fat-containing foods only by the types of the fat (saturated or unsaturated). Remember this is not animal based food. It's a plant-based. For instance, I don't think that lauric acid is bad, regardless that it is a saturated fat. It gives us more benefits. So, I think it's better if the writer give us the more detailed and comprehensive explanation about fat (especially lauric acid, as the main fat) in coconut oil before make an early judgment.

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But olive oil isn't high in saturated fats...

Posted by oilsaintoils,

It is my understanding that the writer is saying only a small number of tablespoons per day of SATURATED fats/oils is recommended by health authorities, but you can have more than that if the oil concerned contains a smaller (or zero) percentage of saturated fats, such as is the case for olive oil. Or have I misread this?

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biased article ,this is to bring down growing popularity of coconut oil ...

Posted by Sivakumar,

absurd ,it is not animal fat origin ,secondly it did not create any harm to health so far in any coconut oil consuming countries ,instead had many medicinal value and able to bring down forgetfulness with old aged persons,skin lotion preventing and protects skin from disease/s or disorders ....article is biased without substantial sci claims ,it cannot be merely on energy basis

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