Many of us (me included) love coconut. But, is coconut oil good for you? The answer isn’t quite clear.
It is common knowledge that coconut flesh, milk, and oil are high in saturated fat. Saturated fatty acids tend to raise levels of LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) in the blood, and elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with heart disease.
However, as Rachel Shulman pointed out in a blog post here, not all saturated fats are created equally. Shulman notes that unlike the long-chain saturated fatty acids found in animal products, the principal fatty acid in coconut is lauric acid, a medium-chain saturated fatty acid. Lauric acid has some antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. It’s an essential fatty acid for maintaining the body’s immune system. Shulman concludes: “So, eating coconut in moderation can actually be good for your health.”
But, how good? In a world where food manufacturers’ are trying to cash in on the multi-billion dollar healthy food market, exaggerated health claims seem the rule rather than the exception. Take POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice. Back in 2012, POM was found to have violated the FTC Act that prohibits false or misleading health claims by advertising its products would treat or reduce the risk of diseases ranging from heart disease to prostate cancer to erectile dysfunction.
Now, it seems coconut oil is being called for its misleading health claims.The FDA recently wrote a warning letter to Carrington Farms, a New Jersey based manufacturer of coconut oil. The letter calls out Carrington Farms for asserting that coconut oil is “healthy,” “low-calorie” and can be used in the cure or prevention of disease.
The letter cites examples of some of the claims that include, on a webpage titled “Health Benefits”, “treating and soothing various infections;” “Lauric acid exhibits anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties; ”…been known to: kill bacteria, ease acid reflux … lower incidence of hemorrhoids … soothes ear aches . . . reduces joint and muscle inflammation.;” “prevent osteoporosis…” and “Lauric acid [found in coconut oil] has been found to protect your heart by reducing total cholesterol…”
The FDA lets Carrington Farms know that coconut oil is “not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced uses…” and “is offered for conditions that are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners; therefore, adequate directions for use cannot be written so that a layperson can use this drug safely for its intended use.”
The letter also says that Carrington Farms Coconut Oil is a “misbranded food” because the product label and labeling claim coconut oil is “healthy.”
The label of your Carrington Farms Coconut Oil product bears the claims “Healthy Foods,” “The healthiest oil on earth,” “Perfect for healthy . . . cooking,” and “Use as a healthy . . . replacement for butter or fat” in connection with the statement “Our unrefined . . . coconut oil is simply pressed and bottled so it retains its original nutrient content . . . No Trans & Hydrogenated Fats.” However, this product does not meet the requirements for use of the nutrient content claim “healthy” …
The rules on this say that you may use the term “healthy” as an implied nutrient content claim on the label provided that the food, among other things, is “low saturated fat” (as defined as saturated fat content of 1g or less per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) and no more than 15 percent of calories from saturated fat). Furthermore, the product must contain at least 10% of the Daily Value per RACC of one or more of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber. Carrington Farms Coconut Oil doesn’t come close. The letter goes on to refute other claims such as coconut oil is low in calories and rich in antioxidants.
It seems that the bottom line is that coconut oil in moderation is a fine substitute for other oils and especially dairy products. Health food? Not really. Great alternative to dairy? Looks like it.