Coconut oil health claims ‘don’t stack up’, New Zealand Heart Foundation

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 27th October 2014
Coconut oil health claims ‘don’t stack up’, New Zealand Heart Foundation
Coconut oil health claims ‘don’t stack up’, New Zealand Heart Foundation

The health benefits of coconut oil have been called into question by research conducted by the New Zealand Heart Foundation.

The NZ Heart Foundation is advising Kiwis to continue using unsaturated plant oils rather than switching to coconut oil as their main cooking oil.

Coconut oil has recently gained popularity as a result of heavy marketing in both the US and Australasia. The NZ Heart Foundation said there was “widespread misinformation about the health benefits of coconut oil, with claims of it being a ‘superfood’”.

In light of this, the NZ Heart Foundation recently commissioned Dr Laurence Eyres, New Zealand’s leading specialist in oils and fats, to prepare an academic paper called ‘Coconut Oil and the Heart’.

Dr Eyres is a consultant to the Food Industry and New Zealand’s leading specialist in oils and fats.  He has over 40 years’ experience in the New Zealand Food Industry and has Post Doctoral degrees in Industrial Chemistry and a Masters in Business (MBA) early 1980s.  Since 1982 he has held Senior Management positions in Operations, Quality Management, R&D, NPD, and market development.

No evidence coconut oil doesn’t raise cholesterol

Dr Eyres has summarised the existing literature on coconut oil and its impact on heart health. He found nothing which disputes the fact that coconut oil raises cholesterol.

He concludes that the claims for coconut oil’s healthiness simply don’t stack up.

“Traditionally, coconut oil hasn’t been recommended because it is extremely high in saturated fat,” Dr Eyres said. “This advice remains, despite the large number of marketing claims to the contrary,” he said.

He says switching to coconut oil was “likely to lead to less favourable lipid profiles and potential increased risk of coronary heart disease”.

“Consumers who are using a lot of coconut oil due to the current fad would be well advised to either limit its use, or to blend in some unsaturated cold-pressed oil such as olive, avocado or canola oil,” Dr Eyres said. “Although it may be a better choice than butter, coconut oil cannot be recommended as a suitable alternative to non-hydrogenated vegetable oils,” he said.

Coconut oil research ‘largely based on animal studies’

Dr Eyres said the wide range of research often quoted to support the use of coconut oil is largely based on animal studies or interpreted from research on medium-chain triglyceride (MCTs) oils.

But the triglycerides in coconut oil cannot actually be classed as MCTs, which means this research is not relevant, according to Dr Eyres.

Delvina Gorton, the NZ Heart Foundation’s National Nutrition Advisor, said occasional use of coconut oil was not a problem but it is not recommended as the main oil of choice.

“The Heart Foundation wants to let people know that, based on current evidence, it is still preferable to use unsaturated plant oils over coconut oil as their main oil,” Ms Gorton said. “People are paying a lot of money to switch to coconut oil thinking it’s better for their heart, but it looks like they’d really be better off sticking with their usual oil,” she said.

Ms Gorton said there was only a small body of research currently available on coconut oil and its risk factors for heart disease in humans.

“In general, the evidence for the impact of coconut oil on risk factors for heart disease is poor,” Ms Gorton said. “The limited evidence is not sufficient to change advice, and suggests that in relation to risk factors for heart disease, plant oils higher in unsaturated fatty acids remain preferable,” she said.

Ms Gorton said a dietary pattern based largely on minimally processed foods and which includes plenty of vegetables and fruit, some nuts, legumes, intact whole grains, seafood and lean meats, reduced fat dairy, and healthy oils is recommended for heart health.