In my newest book, The Paleo Answer, I provide an in-depth discussion on coconut oil. It is extremely high in a saturated fat called lauric acid which scientifically is labeled 12:0, meaning that it is a fatty acid that contains 12 carbon atoms and no double bonds. At one time, many scientists and nutritionists thought that it was unhealthful and promoted atherosclerosis because it raised total blood cholesterol. However, more recent studies show that it actually improves the total blood lipid profile because it also raises HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol. As the total HDL ratio improves, and if it displaces refined carbohydrates, then it reduces triglycerides and small dense LDL, which also reduce the risk for CVD (cardiovascular disease). Studies of traditional societies living in Pacific islands who consume coconuts for their entire lives appear to be free of CVD, but when they begin to “westernize,” this freedom disappears. So, the best information suggests that coconut oil when consumed without western foods (refined sugars, grains, processed foods, etc.) is a healthful oil.
Lauric acid (12:0) appears to be good for gut health because it has antimicrobial activity which promotes healthy gut bacteria and may help to prevent a leaky gut. Further, since lauric acid has a medium chain length, it is relatively stable during cooking and tends not to breakdown with higher heats. Granted, it contains little polyunsaturated fats and no omega-3 fatty acids, but if the diet is balanced and contains meat and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring), seafood, grass produced meats and free ranging eggs, the omega-3 fatty acid balance should not be adversely affected by coconut oil.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D.