Steer clear of coconut oil says Harvard Professor

In a 50 minute lecture, Dr Karin Michels Professor of Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health and director of the Institute for Prevention and Tumour Epidemiology at the University of Freiburg, has called coconut oil one of the “worst foods you can eat,” calling it “pure poison.”

Coconut oil in a jar on wood table close-up. Image Credit: DeeaF / Shutterstock
Coconut oil in a jar on wood table close-up. Image Credit: DeeaF / Shutterstock

The lecture in German was given at the University of Freiburg and is now making rounds on YouTube. It is titled “Coconut Oil and Other Nutritional Errors”. It speaks of the current nutritional trend of incorporating coconut oil in diet that is purported to reduce weight and also improve brain function. There are many who use coconut oil in practically all foods that they consume – from using it as cooking oil to using it as a condiment with their tea. Some gargle or rinse their mouths with coconut oil calling it “oil pulling”. Oil pulling for 20 minutes a day as advocated by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, is claimed to be a treatment for gum infections or gingivitis and sinus inflammation or sinusitis. It is claimed to prevent tooth decay.

Kokosöl und andere Ernährungsirrtümer - Prof. Michels | Uniklinik Freiburg

Coconut oil in short has been hailed as a superfood for some time now. The video on YouTube has garnered almost 800,000 eyeballs. This means that it has captured the interest of thousands of people who are conscious about what they eat.

The American Heart Association in June 2017, released an advisory stating the coconut oil when consumed in large amounts is detrimental to health. This advisory came after the AHA reported a study that all forms of saturated fats are harmful for the heart. Coconut oil contains 82 percent saturated fats and this is more than what is present in butter (63 percent).

Coconut oil is rich is lauric acid. Lauric acid is different from other saturated fats. It can raise the levels of good cholesterol – HDL. However overall it has not been seen to be beneficial for the heart health. There is a 2016 study that collates data from 21 different studies. This review had shown that coconut oil can raise the levels of HDL cholesterol but also raises total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides over and above unsaturated fats such as those contained in olive oil.

Increasing the amount of saturated fat in diet according to the AHA as well as the NHS, could raise the risk of coronary heart disease and raise the levels of LDL and triglycerides or bad cholesterol in blood. Other foods rich in saturated fats include hard cheese, ghee, meat pies, sausages etc. Foods with high content of unsaturated fatty acids include nuts, seeds, oily fish, vegetable oils, soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and avocado etc. These are beneficial to the heart say the health agencies.

There are several indigenous populations around the world that indulge in coconut oil as their main cooking oil. The people claiming coconut oil to be good for health point at the health of these populations in Polynesia, Sri Lanka and some parts of India. However experts explain that these populations also consume more vegetables, fruits and fish compared to Americans.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. Casey Hynes Casey Hynes United States says:

    I carefully considered this before I started using coconut oil in my morning coffee.  However, since I started the use of coconit oil my hdl did increase and my triglyceride level went down significantly.  I have my blood taken every six months for my thyroid.  Sorry doc...but if this were the case my test results are not reflecting this.  I am staying on the coconut oil train!

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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