Last year, I talked about the fact that coconut oil was more popular than ever among natural health enthusiasts, despite solid evidence that’s it’s one of the worst oils you can put in your body.
This year, the coconut trend is gaining even more momentum and is reshaping the composition of many vegan products… for the worse.
To start, let me say that I’ve got nothing against drinking coconut water, especially if you live in a country where coconuts grow. I also think that it’s reasonable to eat some fresh coconut meat, when available.
The problems comes with coconut oil and coconut milk (both refined and concentrated) used in many “alternative” products that unknowing customers buy at the health food store, thinking that they’re healthier than the animal versions.
When buying any product from the health food store now, you have to be extra careful when reading the labels, because refined coconut products are everywhere.
- Most vegan yogurts are now made with coconut instead of soy. They advertise it as a benefit, when in fact their product is less nutritious, higher in fat, and much higher in saturated fats.
- Coconut oil found its way into most plant-based burgers. Again, more fat, more saturated fats, and less nutrition.
- Many plant-based “cheeses” now contain coconut oil, in addition to cashews or other nuts.
I could go on but basically my point is that coconut oil and refined coconut products are now everywhere.
And the industry loves it.
Why? Because for them, it’s a cheap, and useful replacement to the much vilified palm oil and soy products. It’s trendy and people are buying it, and it happens to be easy to manufacture foods with a ton of saturated fats.
Make no mistake. These companies are not adding coconut oil to make the foods healthier. For them, it’s easier to work with that type of oil, and they know that it’s popular right now.
Let’s compare, for example, two versions of the same product. Both are plain vegan yogurts. One is made with soy, one with coconut.
The soy yogurt , per 227g serving, has:
- 4 grams of fat
- 0 grams of saturated fats
- 6 grams of protein
- 30% calcium (RDA)
- 50% vitamin C (RDA)
The coconut version has:
- 7.5 grams of fat
- 6.25 grams saturated fats
- 1.25 grams of protein
- 0% vitamin C (RDA)
- 2.5% calcium (RDA)
Both yogurts are made from the same company, SILK.
Clearly, the coconut version is less nutritious, has much less protein, and is much higher in saturated fats.
But, because people are afraid of soy and think that coconut products are healthy, they might choose this option.
To be clear, I prefer to stick with whole plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables. But I do eat a small amount of soy products. All the fear campaign against soy is based on fraudulent science, as is the positive campaign for coconut. You can read my article about soy here.
Does saturated fat even matter?
Coconut oil and coconut milk are high in saturated fats and will raise your cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease. Many people refuse to believe that, despite all the evidence.
The fact is that it’s better to limit our consumption of saturated fats. Even though I’m not a big consumer of vegan yogurts, I would definitely choose the soy yogurt over the coconut one, based on that reason alone, and also all of the other reasons that I’ve mentioned.
In a fascinating article, nutritionist Jeff Novick tells the story of how coconut oil became a diet fad, against all logic.
In the early 1900s, butter or lard was used in cooking and food manufacturing because these saturated fats are stable, have a creamy texture and can withstand high heat.
Then, scientists discovered in the 1960s that saturated fats cause heart disease by raising cholesterol levels. The industry and the public were urged to replace them with polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).
But because PUFAs don’t work as well and have a much lower smoke point, manufacturers started using partially hydrogenated oils – margarine and shortening, which are now called trans fats. We know that they are just as bad as saturated, animal fats.
Because the public did not want trans fats, and no one wanted to go back to lard and butter (except Bulletproof coffee drinkers and other butter apologists), manufacturers started using palm and coconut oil — which have a positive image of being vegan and healthy.
You will not be able to find a credible scientific study that supports the consumption of coconut oil.
The reality is that all of those high-saturated (or trans) fats can be put in the same basket because they share important characteristics that render them unhealthy:
– Palm oil, coconut oil.
– Butter, lard, animal fat.
– Hydrogenated oils: margarine, etc.
Just like butter, coconut oil (and canned coconut milk) will raise your cholesterol levels to dangerous levels if consumed regularly.
Studies that suggest otherwise all use the same trick: they take individuals with already high cholesterol levels as one of the test groups, because adding saturated fats or cholesterol to the diet of an individual with an already high cholesterol level has little impact — which is known as the “threshold” effect.
In an article titled “Coconut Oil Still Health, Despite AHA Claims,” Chris Kresser tries to argue against the position of the American Heart Association on coconut oil.
To do this, he refers to another article he wrote, titled “The Diet-Heart Myth: Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Are Not the Enemies.”
The problem with Kresser is that he does not seem to read the studies he quotes to support his thesis.
I’ve already shown how Kresser manipulates the facts, purposely or not, to make saturated fats seem innocent.
The fact is that foods rich in saturated fats will increase your serum cholesterol, unless you start from an unhealthy level, in which case, only removing ALL foods rich in cholesterol — including coconut oil — will help you go back to a healthy level.
Some people believe that having a high cholesterol level is not worrisome, which is a foolish assumption that can lead to an early death.
The Healthy Use of Coconut Products
If you have access to fresh coconuts, then by all means add them occasionally to your diet. I personally stay clear of all refined coconut products, including coconut milk, and read the labels to make sure they don’t find their way in the few packaged vegan products that I buy. The only exception would be for coconut water, which I sometimes drink in the summer for hydration, as a better alternative to electrolyte drinks.