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Confusing Coconut Claims

Martina Krause with Coconut Products
Are coconut products good for you?
Martina has a selection.

Coconut is a popular ingredient promoted by weight loss and supplement pushers. To understand it a little better, you need to know there are three main products: coconut oil, water and milk.

  • Coconut Oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat of a mature coconut.
  • Coconut Water is the clear liquid found inside young coconuts.
  • Coconut Milk is a combination of coconut water, coconut meat and the extracted coconut oils and aromatic compounds.

Over the years each of these products has been promoted as a way to drop fat, protect your heart and even recover from a hangover. Today I'm going to talk about coconut oil.

Coconut Oil Coconut Oil Facts: A single serving of coconut oil (one small tablespoon) has 117 calories and 11.8 grams of saturated fat. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, the United States Department of Agriculture suggests you get no more than 7-10% of your daily calories from saturated fat. That's about 19 grams of saturated fat a day. Coconut oil has more than half that in a single tablespoon.

What marketing people have been claiming is that coconut oil somehow will "help to virtually eliminate your risk of developing cancer in the future." They also claim it will reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's and degenerative diseases.

Unfortunately, that's just stuff people made up to get you to buy more. There are NO clinical studies that show consuming coconut oil will help prevent cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's or degenerative disease. NONE.

But the facts didn't stop one of the biggest proponents of coconut oil, a marketer who goes by the name of Dr. Mercola. In his newsletter and on his website he heavily promoted it as a virtual cure-all while aggressively selling it to anybody who would listen.

In 2005 and 2006 the Food and Drug Administration caught up with Joseph Mercola, DO and his Optimal Wellness Center. The FDA told him to stop making illegal claims for four products. The order was based on product labels collected during an inspection at his facility and on claims made on the Optimum Wellness Center website.

Mercola cut back on the fraudulent claims, but since his posts, hundreds of other websites picked up the original lies and continue to repeat them. Even Mercola's website continues to push coconut oil, but he's now saying things like "promoting health" and "supporting immunity."

For those of you who follow my column, you know that words like "promote" and "support" on a label are like flashing a giant sign that says FRAUD. I can say, "licking the tail of a cat supports immunity" without getting in trouble because "support" is a medically meaningless term. If you have even the slightest amount of common sense you know that licking the tail of a cat isn't a good idea. But put the word "support" in front of "immunity" on a supplement like coconut oil, and we believe it has magical powers.

You can verify what I'm saying for yourself. Go to the National Institutes of Health Database (www.pubmed.gov) and type the terms "Coconut Oil Health." Over 100 studies come up and NONE show that simply taking coconut oil daily will benefit overall health. It's simply an oil that, like all oils, should be used sparingly when cooking.

One more point. Coconut oil and coconut milk contain a large portion of lauric acid, a saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol levels by increasing your HDL (good) cholesterol. That may help improve your blood cholesterol profile numbers, but unfortunately, there are no clinical studies that show taking coconut products will help you live a longer or healthier life.

Want to know who else recommends against eating significant amounts of coconut oil because of its high levels of saturated fat? Every organization listed below.

Now you have a choice. You can listen to the people trying to sell you coconut oil supplements, writers (who aren't nutritionists) talking it up in their books and blogs and the restaurants trying to give you food cooked in coconut oil OR the combined wisdom of hundreds of doctors and clinical researchers in several countries? I choose science over people trying to sell me stuff every day.

American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
British National Health Service
Dietitians of Canada
International College of Nutrition
International College of Nutrition
United States Department of Health and Human Services
United States Food and Drug Administration
World Health Organization

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Updated 12/14/2015