Coconut Oil – Myth or Mystique

Coconut Oil – Myth or Mystique

So I love a tasty, foodie “band wagon” just as much as the next person but I’m going to have to bust out on my own here and say, Coconut oil… WTF… as in, Why That Fat!

I obviously don’t get it!

I know that my comments are going to be unpopular and I am not qualified to have an opinion, but I have done a lot of research and here I go anyway.  Feel free to comment below and if it gets too nasty I will simply delete.

Coconut Oil – Myth or Mystique? Is coconut oil Bad News? Why does The Heart Foundation advise against the use of coconut oil.

Saturated Fat

So I can see cardiologists everywhere shaking their heads and wondering who ever suggested that a switch to coconut oil would be a good idea? We were all travelling along quite nicely using olive oil which is a monounsaturated fat and then suddenly coconut oil was touted as the next best thing after quinoa and green smoothies.

But is it? Or have we been hijacked by a positive PR spin and heavy marketing?

Have you ever noticed your jar of coconut oil in the pantry on a moderately cool day? It solidifies, just like the fat from fried sausages, bacon, roast lamb or butter.  The reason? Like those other foods, coconut oil has the dubious honour of being one of very few plant based oils which is a saturated fat.  Not only is it a saturated fat, but we are talking 92% saturated fat!

Now please don’t get me wrong, I love my saturated fats. I will happily devour a delicious cube of layered pork belly, or a piece of crispy duck skin. However, I understand these are “sometimes” foods, and not a healthy lifestyle choice.

What I don’t particularly like, is the trend to replace oils that are relatively harmless such as olive oil, nut oils or sesame oil, with coconut oil and then declare the resulting dish as “healthy”. A recipe that uses a cup of coconut oil in a snack instead of a cup of another fat is not miraculously healthy. It has merely had the oil type changed. Depending on the oil prescribed in the initial recipe this change could constitute a reasonable substitution, a health neutral substitution or a poor health choice.

Nutrient Value of Oil?

Edible oils and fats are calorie dense and nutrient poor. The contain little (if any) vitamins and nutrients.  The structure of fats from various food sources varies significantly so it’ important to understand the type of fat you are choosing in your diet, when you determine the health value of a food.

While some edible fats from plant sources, such as olive oil and flax seed oil, are considered healthy because they are monosaturated, they are all high in calories. All plant oils have about 120 calories per tablespoon so they should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Why Do We Care About the Type of Fat?

Saturated Fat increases the LDL blood cholesterol which is associated with an increase in heart disease. The Heart foundation advises a limit of 7% saturated fat in a healthy diet.

Saturated Fats

Saturated Fats

Saturated is usually found in food such as animal products with visible fat, butter, cream and in plant foods like palm and coconut oil.

In a healthy diet we aim to reduce our intake of unnecessary saturated fats such as cake, chips, butter, lard and cream, coconut oil.

While still consuming adequate levels of foods which contain saturated fat and have good nutritional value such as red meat, cheese, milk and coconut flesh.  Coconuts are high in fibre and do contain nutritients, but also saturated fats.  Ccoconut oil is just high in saturated fat.

Monounsaturated Fat helps to decrease the LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and helps to increase the HDL (good) cholesterol. If we need to use oil in cooking monounsaturated fats are the best choice as they are stable when heated and do not increase LDL cholesterol. An example of some mono saturated fats are olive oil, macadamia, and avocado.

Mono Saturated Fats - Avocado

Mono Saturated Fats – Avocado

Macadamia nut oil has the highest percentage (about 83%) of monounsaturated fat of any edible oil. But, it is a mono saturated so it aids the body in decreasing the bad cholesterol and increasing levels of the heart protecting good cholesterol.

Olives and Olive Oil - Mono Saturated Oils

Olives and Olive Oil – Mono Saturated Oils

Polyunsaturated Fats  in food helps to decrease the LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and helps to increase the HDL (good) cholesterol like the mono saturated fats. There is evidence polyunsaturated fats in food may help lower cholesterol slightly better than monosaturated fats.  Polyunsaturated oils however can have a tendency to change structure when heated.  These oils may not be the best choice for cooking at high temperatures.

Salmon - Poly Unsaturated Oil

Salmon – Polyunsaturated Oil

Polyunsaturated fats are found in seafood, vegetable oils and some nut oils.

Examples of Foods containing Polyunsaturated fats

Examples of Foods containing Polyunsaturated fats

Trans Fats  behave like saturated fats in the body raising LDL blood cholesterol levels and in turn increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease.  They also lower HDL cholesterol, so this makes them even more problematic in the diet.

Trans Fats in Foods

Trans Fats in Foods

Thankfully Trans fats are rare in nature and are found mainly in nutrient empty processed foods such as packaged potato chips and and pastries. This means you can safely exclude Trans Fats from your diet without missing out on any essential nutrients.

To further clarify the fats Issue (hehe joke… clarify…)

To further clarify, a cookie made with butter is not inheriently better or worse than a cookie made with coconut oil. Whether you use 250gm of butter in the recipe or 250gm of coconut oil you are still adding the same calories and a lot of saturated fat. So don’t feel pressure to change your fat of choice from butter to coconut oil. There is no real evidence that one saturated fat is better for your health than another saturated fat. The only differences between the two is taste, the cost of the ingredients and personal preference.

Donut Cookies - Snickerdoodles

Donut Cookies – Snickerdoodles

Fat Table

  • Coconut Oil 92% Saturated Fat – 6% Monounsaturated Fat
  • Typical Aussie Margarine 20% Saturated Fat – 14% Monounsaturated Fat –  60% Polyunsaturated 
  • Butter 66% Saturated Fats – 30% Monounsaturated Fat
  • Lard  41% Saturated Fat – 14% Monounsaturated Fat
  • Olive Oil 14% Saturated Fat – 77% Monounsaturated Fat
  • Macadamia Oil 14% Saturated Fat – 83% Monounsaturated Fat

Something I have noticed recently which disappoints me is the tendency of some coconut oil users to look down there nose at users of other fats.

I don’t like to feel judged for my food choices. Yes I may choose a good old fashioned, fat filled cookie occasionally, but I know it’s not a healthy substitute to a more nutritious meal, its simply a treat. Some health “guru’s” give me the impression they actually believe their alternative sweets are nutritionally important in a diet?

There will always be people who want to tout the next miracle food.  There will always be people that will look down on the eating habits of others.  If you are looking for a heathy diet there are professionals that dedicate their lives to the science of food. Dieticians, cardiologists and scientist.

Alternatively there are others who latch on to Chinese whispers and before you know it you have a cure for all that ails in an ancient herb that has been recently rediscovered.

I have also heard people say they have switched to coconut oil for weight loss.  This is also misguided. The simple science of weight management:

Body energy requirements = A

If you exceed “A” you gain weight.

If you don’t meet your energy needs you lose weight.

If you consume in excess of your calories needs you will still put on weight. It doesn’t matter if your consumption has been only coconut oil and green smoothies, you will still put on weight and not meet your body’s nutritional needs.

Organic Coconut Oil

Organic Coconut Oil

At best coconut oil is a saturated fat which has people divided.  Everyone agrees that it contains high level of saturated fat.  The Heart Foundation and The Dieticians Associations say to avoid coconut oil.

“Health Guru’s” say although coconut oil is a saturated fat it has “hidden” health benefits. So far no health benefits or mystical powers have been confirmed scientifically, so it remains as just another saturated fat. I have a bottle in my pantry, it’s used “sometimes” when I really need it for a recipe. It is no better or worse than any other saturated fat. I will use coconut oil sparingly, if I think it will improve the results of the dish I am cooking.

Useful links

Research for this article has come from a number of sites which I have referenced below. These sites have a lot of other interesting facts relating to fats and oils in foods and cooking.

Better Health Victoria 

The Heart Foundation

The Dieticians Association of Australia

AusFood News

New Zealand Heart Foundation

So readers, is this article controversial?  What do you think, coconut oil, myth or mystical?

Gourmet Getaways

About Julie


  1. Think I am one of a very few who hasn’t purchased coconut oil yet. I like to moderate my intake of everything so don’t buy much into anything any more these days. Not to mention the price of coconut oil is exorbitant, well here in SA anyway.
    Have a wonderful day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  2. I was fascintated to read this as coconut oil seems to be such a huge trend at the moment and there are certainly lots of other good oils out there

    • I agree! I’m not sure who started the trend?? I don’t think any one oil should be used to excess but I’m happy for a variety depending on the cooking and taste and health requirements of the dish.

  3. Higher Being :

    Time for some rebuttal on behalf of the poor innocent and well-meaning coconut oil.

    The big difference in coconut oil is the size or length of the fatty acid.

    Fatty acids are either
    -short chain fatty acids (SCFA),
    -medium chain fatty acids (MCFA),
    -and long chain fatty acids (LCFA).

    The difference come in the number of carbon atoms
    (SCFA) contain less than 6 carbon atoms.
    (MCFA) have between 6-12 carbons,
    (LCFA) have 14 or more carbon atoms.

    The carbon chain influences the chemical and physical properties of the fatty acid.

    Approx 98% of dietary fat consume is LCFA.

    Coconut oil on the other hand is made up of mostly medium chain fatty acids (MCFA)

    (MCFA) are metabolized very VERY differently from long chain fatty acids (LCFA).

    Long story short, LCFA is hard for your body to deal with, it is not absorbed via the GI tract and require pancreatic enzymes and bile salts to break for absorption in the intestine.

    LCFA are packaged into chylomicrons, (lipoprotein particles) The lipoproteins are transported through the lymphatic system to be circulated throughout the body via the bloodstream, fat components are delivers to different tissues, (including hard and skeletal)

    Once the lipoproteins have dropped of their triglyceride to your tissues, the leftovers are transported to the liver, and imported in the mitochondria of the liver cells via the carnitine palmitoyl transferase (CPT), after which they are (or can be oxidized) for energy use.

    Medium chain fatty acids from coconut oil on the other hand go directly to the liver and are metabolized for energy.

    Pancreatic enzymes are not required, which means less work for your pancreas.

    Next, medium chain fatty acids are transported to the portal blood stream, directly to the liver, where they go directly into mitochondria independent of the carnitine palmitoyl transferase, and are immediately oxidized for energy. Medium chain fatty acids from coconut oil do not get packaged into lipoproteins, and do not get transported to a variety of tissues and are not stored as body fat, they go directly to the liver and are metabolized for energy. The bottom line is that medium chain fatty acids from coconut oil produces almost exclusively energy, whereas, long chain fatty acids found in all other dietary fats, are stored as body fat (and some energy). 1 (Reference to someone way smarter than me)

    Energy directly to the mitochondria, is available for immediately used as energy, resulting in a burst of energy and thermogenesis, which, subsequently, increases metabolism.

    1.Papamandjaris, A A; D E MacDougall, P J Jones (1998). “Medium chain fatty acid metabolism and energy expenditure: obesity treatment implications”. Life Sciences 62 (14): 1203-1215.

    • Yep and even though the above research is partially true the results on the body of swapping coconut oil in place of polyunsaturated oil and monounsaturated oil is not beneficial to your overall health and will raise cholesterol levels. This is due to the extremely significant level of Saturated fat and the resulting effect on LDL cholesterol levels. The benefit of the medium fatty chain acids is so minute it doesn’t adequately compensate (in practice) for the significant negative effect of consuming the saturated fat.

      If the medium chain fatty acids came from a product without saturated fat or less saturated fat it would have health benefits. The medium chain fatty acid benefit is the tiny fragment of truth marketing companies have latched on to in order to peddle their product.

  4. Good rant! You might want to check out the book The Big Fat Surprise, which takes a look at a lot of the actual medical testing (or lack of it) about various fats. There are pros and cons about all the fats — it’s a complex subject, more so than I would have thought. Anyway, really enjoyed the post.

    • Thanks John, I think fats, nutrition and health is all very complicated. Moderation and natural eating is probably the best way to handle food on the diet. I’m not against any oil, I just think balance is best.

  5. Coconut oil isn’t for everyone. Some don’t tolerate it well.
    It can be used medically with positive results. If it wasn’t for prescribed MCT oil my husband would be unable to absorb any fats due to a rare medical condition.
    For him it is a miracle.

    He is using medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are partially man-made fats. The name refers to the way the carbon atoms are arranged in their chemical structure. MCTs are generally made by processing coconut and palm kernel oils in the laboratory.

    MCTs can be used along with usual medications for treating food absorption disorders including diarrhea, steatorrhea (fat indigestion), celiac disease, liver disease, and digestion problems due to partial surgical removal of the stomach (gastrectomy) or the intestine (short bowel syndrome).

    MCTs are sometimes used as a source of fat in total parenteral nutrition (TPN). In TPN, all food is delivered intravenously (by IV). This type of feeding is necessary in people whose gastrointestinal (GI) tract is no longer working.

    • Hi Kym,
      Thanks for your input, I know Simon has been very ill for a long time so I am pleased the doctors have been able to prescribe this medication. I have had experience with TPN which also includes MCT. TPN is a liquid which is given intravenously which includes MCT, protein and sugar. My daughter was prescribe TPN whilst she was in an induced coma because she had no other way of receiving nutrition. I understand the uses of the product MCT in medicine.

      My article was about the consumer switch from using olive oil, polyunsaturated oil etc to coconut oil and the health implications. As with all foods, coconut oil has a mix of positive and negative effects. My aim was to show readers that coconut oil isn’t a miracle product marketing has led us to believe it is. There are adverse health risks and people should consider carefully if an increase in saturated fats is safe for their circumstances.

      • Hi Julie, I am finding avocado oil much better to cook with and is a healthier oil too 🙂
        Coconut oil has its place especially given it has a high smoke point and isn’t made from GMO ingredients (like canola oil) but I don’t think the coconut oil fad is sustainable.

  6. I think this highlights the problem with all food fads and crazes! I like coconut oil for some reasons but obviously it will never be an all-the-time health food. Similarly, I like olive oil for some reasons but don’t think it’s great to have that with everything either. Moderation goes a long way, and ignoring fads does the same 🙂

  7. I have been trying to eat healthy lately so this article is super helpful!
    Melanie @

  8. I like coconut oil because it smells really good, esp. in baking. I too use other oils, like argan, seed oil, nut oil, and of course olive oil. My daily fat intake is usually under 40grams and mainly from avocado.

  9. Great article, I’m not a fan either!

  10. Same thing happened here in the Philippines. Several years back the virgin coconut oil trended without Twitter and companies mushroomed to export, trade, distribute the famed oil. I have nothing against it, but I do prefer my extra virgin olive oil for most of the food I prepare and eat :).

  11. Flaxseed oil, avocado oil, and toasted hazelnut oil are a few of the oils I’ve been using lately and I love them. I’ve stayed away from coconut oil because I was hearing so many conflicting reports and I love that you took the time to spell it all out in black and white for us, Julie.
    Thanks for a great article. Can I link back to it on next week’s Tuesday Tidbits? Would love for my readers to see this!

  12. Thanks for the insight! I agree with you when you say that coconut oil should be a sometimes-ingredient in dishes. Same as palm oil and other oils and fats that solidify in cool temps.

  13. This post IS controversial and i love it! Haha. Very informative, thanks. Personally I don’t use coconut oil because it’s expensive and i don’t know how to work with it. I eat REAL butter (unsalted) maybe once a week in small quantity, on fresh sourdough bread, as a treat. I also bake using buttter. For my cooking and salad seasoning i use extra virgin olive oil only. I like macadamia oil and other nuts oil but they are a little expensive. I avoid vegetable oil in my diet such as canola oil and the obvious palm oil. I do not eat margarine or any other types of processed butter.

  14. Great post Julie, I completely agree. As a public health nutritionist, I’m over the fads and unqualified health advice. I do use a bit of coconut oil here and there, particularly as a moisturiser. A bit of everything in moderation. At the end of the day it’s a saturated fat.


  1. […] been hearing a lot of information to the contrary.  Julie at Gourmet Getaways has done an extensive look at exactly what is in this oil and I agree with her conclusion that it’s really not all that […]

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