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Is coconut oil good for you?

There are a lot of claims being made about coconut oil. In relation to heart health, the claims are not convincing, and there is little evidence to support coconut oil being called a 'superfood'.

a coconut split in half
The research suggests coconut oil is better than butter for cholesterol levels, but not as good as other plant oils that are lower in saturated fat.

What does the evidence say?

Research on MCTs cannot be applied to coconut oil

Research on medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) is widely quoted as supporting use of coconut oil.  However, coconut oil only contains a very small amount of medium-chain fatty acids.  The main fatty acid is lauric acid, which acts like a long-chain fatty acid in the body.  

Evidence in humans is lacking 

Research in animals is also widely quoted.  This type of research can help build theories (hypotheses), but these must be tested in humans before we can draw any meaningful conclusions. 
There are only a small number of research trials on coconut oil in humans.  Overall, they show that coconut oil raises all types of cholesterol in the blood.  

Coconut oil is not typically eaten in the Pacific

Epidemiological research from the Pacific Islands is widely quoted as supporting use of coconut oil.  However, this research is on squeezed coconut milk/cream rather than coconut oil. Coconut oil was typically used as a hair conditioner or moisturiser rather than eaten.  Furthermore, the traditional Pacific diet was far different to that in New Zealand, based largely on fresh vegetables and fruit, seafood, and with no processed or junk foods. 

You can read the full review of the research in our 'Coconut and the heart' evidence paper and Position Statement.

What does the Heart Foundation recommend?

Using small amounts of coconut oil to add flavour shouldn’t be a problem for most people, but we suggest using other liquid plant oils for a main oil, such as olive, avocado or canola oil. Other healthy sources of fat include nuts, seeds, oily fish, and avocado.

Still feeling confused about coconut oil? We've compiled some frequently asked questions and given our responses. Download this document below.

Is coconut oil good for my heart?