In a very recent post I waffled on about coconut oil after I’d read a post from the wonderful Rich Roll warning us to only consume coconut oil sparingly.
However, is this advice relevant if you consume virgin coconut oil?
As a fan of organic, raw, virgin coconut oil – rather than a nasty hydrogenated version – I was alarmed to read Rich Roll’s post based on a video from Dr Greger.
I discussed this in the previous post but wanted to try to get to the bottom of the issue as Bruce Fife’s book Coconut Cures tells a very different story.
As I explained, the trouble with a lot of the research condemning coconut oil is related to the difference between processing methods.
If the product is hydrogenated then it is bound to have a negative effect on health whereas the organic virgin coconut oil is on the opposite end of the scale, i.e. healthy! Well according to Bruce Fife.
The takeaway point is that if a study uses hydrogenated coconut oil cholesterol will be raised.
The same finding would be true regardless of the type of hydrogenated oil used! Hydrogenated fats raise cholesterol, we should avoid these trans fatty acids.
What is virgin coconut oil?
I’ve been rereading Coconut Cures to get some of the fuzzy coconut facts straight.
Just to elaborate, virgin coconut oil refers to oil that has been subjected to less intense processing than some methods and is derived from fresh coconuts rather than dried version known as copra.
Copra must be processed to produce a refined coconut oil fit for human consumption.
Extra virgin refers to coconut oil that has been processed without heat and chemicals so is organic and raw coconut oil. This is what I’ll use given the choice.
Facebook coconut oil post experiment
I posted the oringinal coconut oil post all over FB trying to see what people thought – all the vegan sites and some exercise pages too.
On the Forks over Knives page I posted the link to the post I wrote in a comment concerning Alzheimers and they kind people there responded.
I was referred to an “article from Forks Over Knives friend, Jeff Novick”. This article disses coconut oil and suggests it of no more value, nutritionally than sugar. Jeff Novick hates coconut oil but he’s WRONG – it’s a superfood
Forks and Knives friend Jeff Novick on Coconut oil
This post is from 2008 and clearly Novick isn’t a fan of coconut oil! He seems to be reacting to a trend back then proclaiming the benefits of coconut oil.
Oddly, he compares it to sugar, rather than another oil and measuring it’s nutritional value talks about it failing to have any protein and the like! But why would an oil have any such thing? Odd!
As he is firmly in the ‘anti’ camp he is trying to blow away the marketing spiel purporting coconut oil as a superfood.
IF we’re talking strictly hydrogenated coconut oil, I’m with you brother but if you refer to organic raw virgin coconut oil, I’m afraid it just don’t wash, mate.
He then cites studies which indicate that coconut oil is harmful. The first
Differences in all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality between Hong Kong and Singapore: role of nutrition. Eur J Epidemiol. 2001;17(5):469-77
is epidemiological and concludes that dietary factors contribute to the finding that Singaporean subjects had greater incidence of all-cause cardiovascular mortality than Hong Kong counterparts, suggesting higher consumption of saturated fats via coconut oil and palm oil as likely contributors.
This is NOT proof AND the methodology indicates that there was no attempt to distinguish between intake of virgin coconut oil and hydrogenated coconut oil!
This confound is a serious as explained in the previous post; hydrogenated anything is bad. I’m not sure about this study
The second cited study
Consumption of Saturated Fat Impairs the Anti-Inflammatory Properties of High-Density Lipoproteins and Endothelial Function. J Am Coll Cardiol, 2006; 48:715-720
is sumarized by Novick, looked at
…the effects of even just one high fat meal, where the fat came from coconut oil, on HDL, inflammation, and blood flow (2). Subjects were fed a meal high in fat from coconut oil and the effects were evaluated at 3 and 6 hours after the meal. The meal containing coconut oil impaired the anti-inflammatory action of HDL at both 3 and 6 hours. In addition, blood flow was significantly reduced 3 hours after the meal containing coconut oil and remained slightly reduced at 6 hours
Luckily, we can delve into this study as it’s available online in part. Once more the type of coocnut oil is not indicated. We simply do not know whether the coconut oil was virgin coconut oil or hydrogenated?
Then citing study three Novick talks about how some of the MCTs (medium chain triglycerides), fatty acids peculiar to coconut oil, are compromised as they are often removed from commercially avalable coconut oil and used in cosmetics however, that is not the case if we consume raw organic virgin coconut oil – the pure stuff rocks!
Pharmaceutical and cosmetic uses of palm and lauric products. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. Volume 62, Number 2 / February, 1985
MCTs are important because the health benefits of coconut oil revolves around these good guys.
MCT constitutes how much of coconut oil’s make up?
Novick states that while medium chain triglycerides do have benefits over longer chain fatty acids this is irrelevant, er no I mean IRRELEVANT!
Amazing! He says this is because “medium chain triglycerides only make up a small part of the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil”. Ahem, according to Fife this is not the case.
Fife provides a table (p. 31) outlining the fatty acid composition of a number of fats including coconut oil which is 62% MCFA. This is hardly a small part, Novick is incorrect if the Proceedings of the World Conference on Lauric Oils are to be believed. The Novick source is not named!
And finally, he cites a study which shows that Polynesians, who consume a lot of coconut oil have very limited incidence of heart disease.
Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau Island studies. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 34: 1552-1561, 1981
It seems that this study supports the notion that coconut oil guards against heart disease but Novick posits otherwise. He says
there are many other aspects of the native Polynesian diet and lifestyle that were very healthy and helped counteract the negative effects of the coconut. The traditional Polynesian diet is very high in fiber from locally grown fresh fruits, veggies and root vegetables, high in the protective plant sterols, high in the protective omega 3 fats, and very low in sodium. In addition, since their main source of calories and fat was coconut, in spite of the coconuts high saturated fat intake, they also had a very low intake of dietary cholesterol as coconuts are devoid of dietary cholesterol.
They were also very physically active and tended to not smoke. Few, if any, were overweight or obese, or had diabetes or high blood pressure. So, in the big picture, they may have had fewer deaths from heart disease but this was mainly because they had only one risk factor, a higher blood cholesterol level which was likely a result of their higher intake of saturated fat from coconuts.
However, in the previous post I provided figures from Fife’s book which show that in the Philippines cardiovascular disease death rate per 100k population is 120 compared to 548 for Japan which is 4.5 times greater.
To my knowledge Japan has the longest life expectancy on the planet and should have similar protection factors to those suggested by Novick, yet they have 4.5 times the death rate. I’m not convinced.
Virgin coconut oil is the key
Consistent with Fife, the trouble seems to lie with studies not using the healthy form of pure coconut oil – organic, raw, virgin coconut oil! Well at least potentially so.
His other arguments can be countered also.
He also argues that MCTs present in coconut oil form only a small part of the fats in coconut oil, this is not the case according to Fife. Once again this could be a function of the type of oil used in the study, we know that pure coconut oil has healthier properties than the hydrogenated version, which is not surprising trans fats are not good!
The take home message seems to be that virgin coconut oil is the one to use and personally I’d go for the pressed, raw stuff. However, Fife says that because coconut oil is able to withstand heat so well other processing methods of virgin coconut oil are still very usable.
The way to tell, he says is by price. Expensive stuff is the good stuff and it should say virgin. He also mentions “expeller pressed” which is less processed than the RBD stuff. I’m still unsure of any way of telling whether you’re using hydrogenated coconut oil, other than ensuring you have virgin coconut oil.
The inquiry continues but I wonder what Forks over Knives thinks about their friend Jeff Novick’s view in the light of the Fife viewpoint? Novick also dismisses the anti-microbial effects of virgin coconut oil at the drop of a hat – watch this space, I’ll fill you in on this later!
I will now investigate a little further. Feel free to chip in with any comments below and share this post if you like it!