Q. I have seen many products promoting the health benefits of coconut oil or coconut water. Is there any proof of those benefits?
A. Coconut oil proponents claim that it boosts the body’s immune defenses and supercharges metabolism, among other things. Preliminary research suggests that coconut oil may have a healthy effect on your cholesterol profile, but it’s too soon to be sure.
Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, which is a higher percentage than butter (64% saturated fat) and beef fat or lard (40%). Saturated fat, whether from coconut oil or other sources, raises the “bad” LDL cholesterol associated with heart disease—and also raises “good” HDL cholesterol. However, it’s not known whether coconut oil’s mix of good and bad influences on cholesterol reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease over the long term. Until we know that, any claim that coconut oil is more heart-healthy than other fats is speculative.
The other coconut product frequently seen on store shelves is coconut water, which is promoted as a sports drink. Coconut water, which comes from young coconuts, is low in fats and oils. It has high levels of potassium, which is seen as a desirable nutrient after exercise and sweating. A standard 12-ounce serving of coconut water contains about 700 milligrams of potassium, the equivalent of almost two bananas. Most people would get about the same nutrition from drinking plain water and eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables. In addition, beware of coconut water products that have added sugar.
— William Kormos, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men’s Health Watch