It started in 1994.
Moviegoers were happily settling into their seats with their buckets of popcorn, sans butter. Sounds better than buckets of popcorn slathered in butter, right? Not according to Michael Jacobsen, an executive director of a consumer interest nutritional group. While the popcorn had not been flavored with butter, it was apparently soaked in coconut oil, and this could not stand. In his opinion, “Theater popcorn ought to be the Snow White of snack foods, but it’s been turned into Godzilla by being popped in highly saturated coconut oil“.
Is coconut oil the devil masked in silky white clothing? Well, coconut oil is rather high in saturated fat: percentage wise, more so than butter or lard. Consuming too much saturated fat may lead to increased levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind), which is correlated with heart disease and stroke, due to clogged arteries in the bloodstream. This led to the American Heart Association denouncing coconut oil as unhealthy in June of 2017, and recommended consumers lower intake of foods high in saturated fats.
However, the keyword here is “lower”: saturated fats are still a required portion of a healthy diet. Furthermore, many of the early studies performed involving coconut oil were with chemically treated versions of partially hydrogenated coconut oil. This was done to raise the cholesterol levels of the subjects to collect data. But according to Dr. Thomas Brenna, “Virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, is a different thing in terms of a health risk perspective. And maybe it isn’t so bad for you after all”
Pure, unrefined, extra-virgin coconut oil is also approximately 60% medium-chain-triglycerides (also known as MCTs), which have their own host of benefits: a study back in 2008 concluded that consumption of MCT may be used to enhance weight loss; by increasing satiety and metabolism. Virgin coconut oil also contains zero trans and hydrogenated fat.
More recently, a study conducted in late 2017 found that consuming coconut oil may actually lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. 94 participants were split into three groups, and consumed either 3 tablespoons of coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or unsalted butter over the course of four weeks.
The group that consumed butter gained an approximate rise of 10 percent in LDL cholesterol, and the olive oil group had a slight reduction in LDL cholesterol, as well as a 5 percent rise in HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. However, the coconut oil group had the biggest change. These subjects had an approximate rise of 15 percent in HDL cholesterol, triple that of the olive oil group. High HDL cholesterol levels are necessary to reduce the risk for heart disease, as this cholesterol works to remove LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and repair inner walls of blood vessels. When the inner walls of blood vessels are left damaged, it may cause heart attacks and strokes.
Something interesting to note is that three tablespoons is triple the average serving of coconut oil, which would actually exceed the current suggested daily value of saturated fat. While it would seem that this would increase levels of LDL cholesterol , that appears to be opposite the case, according to the above study. Which begets the question: Are all saturated fats created equal?
We aren’t scientists, and more studies would need to be conducted to determine causation of coconut oil consumption occurring with lowered risk of heart disease and stroke. However, given the health benefits of increased levels of MCT and HDL cholesterol in the body, coconut oil can be a valuable staple in a healthy diet. Use it as a natural sweetener in tea, or a mellow flavor in cooking or baking.
Full disclosure: Roots and All does sell coconut oil. However, the team maintains an unbiased approach when blogging and relies on scientific facts and statements backed by experiments. You can read more about the details of our pure, extra virgin coconut oil here.