Here’s why a Harvard professor is denouncing coconut oil as ‘pure poison’

Coconut oilCC: Moho1 at Pixabay

As a product that graces the shelves of grocery stores worldwide, coconut oil has become a bit of a phenomenon. Celebrities such as Miranda Kerr start their day by eating a mouthful of it. Beauty bloggers use it to make their hair shiny. And, natural health proponents depend on it for cooking and boosting their immune system.

It’s easy to argue that coconut oil has attracted a cult-like following. However, the latest news isn’t working in its favor. According to Karen Michels of Harvard University, coconut oil is ‘pure poison’ and one of the worst things you can eat.

So, where is all of this hate for the natural food world’s favorite panacea coming from?

Science says that coconut oil isn’t all that good for you

Although coconut oil features heavily on many a Instagram feed, there’s little evidence to suggest its good for you. In fact, on a scientific level, it can cause harm. It contains more LDL cholesterol than lard. As the type of cholesterol that increases your risk of heart disease, you don’t want to invite too much into your blood stream.

Additionally, when the American Heart Association surveyed nutritionists last year, only 37-percent said they would recommend coconut oil. Seeing as it contains 86-percent saturdated fat, that’s hardly surprising. Although you could argue that the fats are ‘good,’ this is a slight misnomer if your diet sucks overall. Much like the cholesterol-busting spreads health companies advertise, coconut oil won’t deliver much of a positive effect if you’re using it alongside a bad diet.

Why is coconut oil so popular?

As with many aspects of the natural health arena, coconut oil has gained its excellent reputation through celebrity endorsements. For example, Gwyneth Paltrow (the same woman who promotes filling your underwear with dried wasp nests) swears by it. Emma Stone claims it cures her allergies. Other slightly less surprising celebrities in the coconut oil fan camp include Dr. Oz and the Kardashians.

Although there are plenty of celebrities on the oil’s bandwagon, there’s no strong scientific evidence to back claims that it’s effective in preventing heart disease. Those who support its use are quick to claim that its lauric acid content conveys benefits.

However, one study in the British Medical Journal revealed that, although lauric acid is effective in preventing heart disease, no studies clearly demonstrate how beneficial it is in a Western population group. Most studies used in favor of coconut oil compare lauric acid use with those who eat largely unhealthy diets. Their design makes it difficult to confidently say whether it’s the use of lauric acid in the coconut oil group that reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, or the fact that those eating it lead healthier lifestyles than those who don’t.

Coconut oil fans are also quick to state that countries where it features as a diet staple don’t have quite as many cardiovascular deaths as the United States. But, those claims don’t account for the fact that individuals living in such countries generally eat healthier diets overall.

When used in moderation, coconut oil probably does no harm. However, it’s likely that Dr. Michels dismay is arising from the number of people who will pack a teaspoon of it into their mouths with the hopes they’ll offset the negative effects of a bad diet. Use it for frying and making your hair shiny, by all means. But, don’t go overboard and do focus on living a healthy lifestyle overall.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.