A Controversy Over Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is currently popular, with uses ranging from hair conditioner to skin moisturizer to dietary supplement.

But the American Heart Association recently declared that the stuff is actually bad for you.  “Coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favorable effects,” says an AHA advisory paper.  “We advise against the use of coconut oil.”

This news was immediately followed by a rebuttal from Medscape.  “The AHA paper is an outlier, with at least nine other expert reviews finding weak to nonexistent evidence for this link,” writes cardiologist Eric Thorn.  “The diet-heart hypothesis has been tested more than any other hypothesis in the history of nutrition, and thus far the results have been null.”

This has led to a flurry of arguments and counter-arguments from various news media.  “Coconut oil ‘as unhealthy as beef fat and butter,’” declares the BBC.  “Celebrities’ favorite oil has more saturated fat than butter and lard,” agrees Moneywatch.

“Don’t believe the American Heart Assn,” counters the LA Times.  “Butter, steak and coconut oil aren’t likely to kill you.”

On the other hand, “Coconut oil isn’t healthy,” says USA Today. “It’s never been healthy.”

“Coconut Oil Is Still Fine — Not Great, But Fine,” offers the website Science of Us.

Regardless of the debate over saturated fats, coconut oil is also known for its phenolic content, which has beneficial antioxidant properties.

Scientists in Sri Lanka using Agilent ChemStation software found that the total phenol content of traditional coconut oil is nearly seven times higher than that of commercial coconut oil, suggesting that phenol content varies with the extraction method.

Indeed, a separate Sri Lanka study using an Agilent HPLC and ChemStation software found that coconut oil extracted under hot conditions contained more phenolic substances than oil extracted under cold conditions.

And scientists in Malaysia using an Agilent gas chromatograph found that virgin coconut oil is higher in beneficial phenolic antioxidants than refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil.

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