Coconut oil is one of nature’s strongest forms of nutrition. Due to its ideal nutrient content and its immune-strengthening compounds, breast milk is considered to be the most perfect food in the world for human consumption. The coconut is the closest to mother’s milk in nature. This tropical staple food is filled with many strong fatty acids, which give it a unique taste and an abundance of health-promoting properties. So how much coconut oil should you take every day?
Coconut oil improves every body system. It is best known for its ability to dramatically increase immunity through the presence of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) such as lauric acid. When the body consumes lauric acid, it is converted into a monoglyceride called monolaurine.
Monolaurine liquefies microbial fat cell membranes that cause them to decompose. It is possibly one of nature’s strongest antimicrobial agents.
It’s an internet meme that feels all too real when so many healthy recipes (including many on this site) require coconut oil, whether it’s for cooking, baking or making lattes. But how much is too much?
“I always say that fat is where it is, especially when weight loss is the goal,” says Carolyn Brown, a registered nutritionist. “I recommend one to two tablespoons of healthy fat per meal. If the coconut oil is at one or two meals, great!” Jessica Cording, another registered nutritionist, had patients who thrive from zero to five tablespoons of coconut oil daily.
But what about all that saturated fat?
Almost all the fat in coconut oil is saturated, and one tablespoon contains 14 grams and provides pretty much the amount of saturated fat that the American Heart Association recommends people consume daily. Dr. Frank Lipman points out that it is a good saturated fat. “Coconut oil is a good saturated fat that has positive metabolic effects,” he says.
“Research has shown that the specific types of saturated fats found in coconut oil, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), are metabolized differently than other saturated fats because of their different structure,” Jessica explains. “MCTs have been shown to go directly to the liver from the GI tract, where they are processed into ketones that can be used as a source of energy. Ketones have been studied for their therapeutic use in brain diseases, and a ketogenic diet (high in fat, carbohydrates and proteins) has long been used to treat drug-resistant epilepsy and has recently been proven to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and other neurological disorders. For these conditions, Jessica will prescribe a higher diet with coconut oil to benefit from its therapeutic effects. “For people who are more interested in general well-being, I am less likely to recommend more than two tablespoons of coconut oil a day.”
All these medium-chain fatty acids also mean that coconut oil is immediately processed by the liver and converted into energy – in other words, this fat will not make you fat (and studies show that it may even help you burn fat). It is also one of the few sources of lauric acid, which is also found in breast milk and is known for its antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Is there anything wrong with it?
In a recent interview with Mindbodygreen, Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey expressed his dislike of oil coconut oil included. “I’m trying to get people to understand oil is. What is sugar? You take a whole plant food and only take out the carbohydrates. Oil is the same – you take all the vegetable food and only take out the fat,” he said. “People are so willing to condemn sugar, but they don’t condemn oil that is pure fat. I would really argue that oil is less healthy than sugar. None of them have nutrients in them – when you look at them, they are free of minerals and phytonutrients. The oil has twice as many calories as sugar, so you get twice as many calories as sugar, without nutrients and benefits.”
Dr. Will Cole, a functional medicine specialist, disagrees. “While it is always a good rule to focus on whole foods, healthy oils have a number of advantages. Coconut oil has beneficial MCT fats that our brain loves and increases cognitive function. Avocado oil is a good source of lutein, a carotenoid that makes our eyes healthy. Extra virgin olive oil is rich in polyphenols and fat-soluble vitamins E and K. Ghee is a great food source for fat-soluble A, D and K2. These oils have been shown to reduce disease and improve lipid supply.”
Dr. Sara Gottfried, a hormone specialist, agrees with Mackey. “If Mackey’s subtext is that we choose to eat oil in a less processed state, such as the oilier foods like avocado, coconut, macadamia nuts and olives, then I only agree with this part of his argument. I am a real foodist. I prefer to get my nutrients from the nutritious foods that are easily prepared, i.e. minimize the processing, including the extraction of oil.” However, she thinks that coconut oil is a healthy food – but only for some types of people.
“For example, if you have the ApoE4 gene, the gene that poses an increased risk for Alzheimer’s and heart disease, it may not be the best idea to add tablespoons to your latte one by one.
According to Bulletproof Diet Founder (and good fat advocate) Dave Asprey, there is a situation where you should definitely avoid coconut oil. “If you don’t eat your vegetables,” he says, “coconut oil is bad for you. Coconut oil accompanies the bad parts of the intestinal bacteria into the bloodstream. One or two tablespoons of coconut oil are great – if you eat it with a ton of vegetables, you’ll be fine. But if you eat it with whole grain or sugar, it’s likely to have a negative effect on your body.”
Can you eat too much coconut oil?
In short, “Even with good things, you can have too much of it. Too much coconut oil or any other source of fat can lead to GI irritation. We should all eat the amount that is right for our bodies, based on our digestive and gallbladder health and genetics,” says Dr. Cole. Dr. Gottfried uses coconut oil in cooking (she is a fan of its stability at high temperatures), but does not supplement it elsewhere.
Carolyn agrees. “I am also a big fan of diversification, so I would limit it to two to three tablespoons, maximum, per day.