Everything You Wanted To Know About Coconut Oil

By Nigel Kinbrum

Questions about coconut oil are quite frequent on MT. Hopefully, this article will answer them all.

What’s in coconut oil?

Coconut oil is ~91% saturated fatty acids, ~7% monounsaturated fatty acids, ~2% omega-6 fatty acids and zero omega-3 fatty acids.

According to McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods (MAFF 1991) the fatty acid composition of coconut oil is as follows:

Name (:0 = sat, :1 = mono, :2 = poly, n6 = omega-6) Quantity (%)
Caprylic Acid (C8:0) 7.5
Capric Acid (C10:0) 7.1
Lauric Acid (C12:0) 47.7
Myristic Acid (C14:0) 15.8
Palmitic Acid (C16:0) 9.0
Stearic Acid (C18:0) 2.4
Arachidic Acid (C20:0) 1.0
Palmitoleic Acid (C16:1) 0.4
Oleic Acid (C18:1) 6.6
Linoleic Acid (C18:2 n6) 1.8

Won’t all that saturated fat give me coronary heart disease?

Whether or not you get coronary heart disease (CHD) depends on your whole diet. According to Prior et al 1981 who studied two populations of Polynesia, Pukapukans and Tokelauans. Pukapukans were getting 26% (male) to 30% (female) of total calories from saturated fats; Tokelauans were getting 47% (male) to 49% (female) of total calories from saturated fats. Tokelauans had total serum cholesterol 35-40mg/dl (0.9-1.03mmol/l) higher than Pukapukans. As Tokelauans were getting about seven times more energy from saturated fats than the 7% that current healthy eating guidelines recommend, they must have been dropping like flies from CHD or strokes, right? Wrong. To quote “Vascular disease is uncommon in both populations and there is no evidence of the high saturated fat intake having a harmful effect in these populations.” How come? Well, if you look at the rest of the Tokelauans’ diet, you’ll see virtually no refined sugar or cereal products. They weren’t eating junk. When Tokelauans migrated to New Zealand, their sat fat intake fell to about 41% of total calories, but as they were eating more refined carbs and sugar, their lipid profile became worse.

What are the benefits of coconut oil?

Medium-chain fatty acids (also referred to as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs)) are metabolised rapidly without passing through the liver and provide a quick source of energy for muscles. There is evidence that medium-chain fatty acids stimulate the thyroid gland to secrete more of the hormones T4 and T3 which can be an aid when cutting. There is also evidence that lauric acid has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Coconut oil is also good for the skin when rubbed in. Due to its high saturated fat content and low monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fat content, coconut oil is the most stable oil for cooking at high temperatures.

Where can I buy coconut oil?

Don’t buy cheap coconut oil. It’s almost certainly refined, bleached and deodorised which detracts from its health benefits. The best coconut oils are organic virgin oils and will be labelled as such.