Is the Saturated Fat in Coconut Harmful?


If you read the ingredients in a lot of my “eat clean” recipes you’ll notice I use coconut milk and extra virgin coconut oil with regularity. My son absolutely loves coconuts (that’s him in the photo above after just cracking open a fresh one!) and likes to eat them fresh as a snack.  But, since coconut oil does contain a lot of saturated fat and since saturated fat has come under a great deal of scrutiny I thought I’d just briefly clear up any coconut confusion.

Plant-Based Saturated Fats


Animal-Based Saturated Fats


First of all, coconut oil does contain a large amount of saturated fat, but the plant-based saturated fat found in unrefined coconut is completely different than the saturated fat found in animal foods. It’s very important to understand that just as not all fats are created equal, all saturated fats are not created equal either. Just as there are “good fats” and “bad fats”, there are also “good saturated fats” and “bad saturated fats”.

Unrefined whole coconut meat, coconut milk and extra virgin coconut oil are “good saturated fats” and have a completely different biochemical makeup than the saturated fats found in animal foods. Epidemiological studies show the saturated fats found in animal foods (such as butter, beef, dairy, turkey, chicken, eggs, etc) is harmful to heart health but that the saturated fat found in unrefined and unprocessed coconut foods is not harmful (1). Even though many people have for years been lumping all saturated fats together and have been blaming all saturated fats for increasing the risk of heart disease, population studies of people living in the Pacific Islands and Asia, whose diets are naturally very high in unrefined coconut foods, show surprisingly low incidences of cardiovascular disease. In 1992 researchers reviewed some of the epidemiological and experimental data regarding coconut-eating groups and noted that the available population studies show coconut consumption does not lead to high-serum cholesterol nor to high coronary heart disease mortality or morbidity (2).


All Coconut Foods Are NOT Created Equal


You’ll notice I’ve been stressing that the coconut foods eaten in the population studies mentioned above have been unrefined and unprocessed. Just like all saturated fats are not equal, all coconut foods are not equal either. Most coconut foods found in commercially prepared products have been highly processed and are not at all the same as the unrefined coconut foods eaten by the heart-healthy Pacific Islanders. For example, highly processed coconut oils found in convenience items such as microwave popcorn, artificial coffee creamers, nondairy whipped toppings, vegetable shortenings, etc. have all been highly processed, stripped of innate nutrients and exposed to chemical solvents. Eating processed coconut oil is absolutely harmful. In fact, any studies that have ever shown coconut oil to have a negative effect on health have all been on processed coconut foods. Specifically, processed coconut oils contain hydrogenated oils and we now know it is the hydrogenated oils (which contain trans fats) that are harmful to your health, not the unrefined coconut.

Coconuts Fit Perfectly into an “Eat Clean” Diet

There’s even more good news about coconuts; unlike the saturated fat from animal foods, plant-based coconuts and extra virgin coconut oil that has not been refined (the “cleanest” form) will contain disease-fighting phytochemicals that are only found in plant-foods. Coconuts are also rich in lauric acid, which has very powerful anti-bacterial / anti-viral properties and is well known to support a healthy immune system and even facilitate brain function.

I am absolutely not suggesting you start gobbling bowlfuls of coconut meat or adding coconut oil by the heaping tablespoon full to every meal. I’m just saying unrefined coconut in moderation is not harmful to your health.  I’m also saying the saturated fat found in unrefined coconut can not be classified in the same category as the saturated fat found in animal foods.

If you are familiar with our first book, The Gold Coast Cureyou’ll recall we recommended keeping your saturated fat intake to less than 15 grams a day. This recommendation was based on the research we did on diet and multiple sclerosis as outlined in Roy Swank, M.D.’s The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book among other scientific journals such as the Journal of Neurology. Limiting your saturated fat intake to 15 grams or less per day was the only “counting” we encouraged in our book and we still stand by that recommendation. However, you can still eat a good amount of coconut on a clean foods diet and not go over that limit.


Eat Clean! Choose a High Quality Extra Virgin Coconut Oil


Finally, if you like to cook, extra virgin coconut oil is a FABULOUS substitute for butter (especially in baked foods.) Just like butter, coconut oil is very heat stable, so it resists oxidation and can withstand high-heat temperatures. However, it is extremely important you choose the absolute highest quality extra virgin coconut oil and that you don’t settle for second best oils labeled “virgin” or simply “coconut oil”.  I’ve come to rely on Barlean’s Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oils for supplying the best-tasting coconut oil. In addition, my husband and I have personally met the Barlean family and we know their commitment to quality. For example, they use only hand-selected and fresh-picked coconuts for their oil; coconuts that are immature or overripe or that have fallen to the ground are nutritionally inferior and not used to make Barlean’s oils. Barlean’s oils are also carefully cold-pressed to preserve nutrients from the whole coconut and they are processed without the use of chemical solvents or hard mechanical filtration. also offers a delicious high quality extra virgin coconut oil that is easy on the wallet, too.  Click the picture link below to shop coconut oil:


Beyond the Kitchen & Into the Bathroom…

I’ll save my other uses for coconut oil for another article. But for now I can tell you I have coconut oil in my kitchen AND in my bathroom!


  1. N. I. Lipoeto, et al. “Dietary Intake and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease among the Coconut-Consuming Minangkabua in West Sumutra, Indonesia,” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 13(2004): 377-84.
  2. H. Kaunitz and C.S. Dayrit, “Coconut Oil Consumption and Coronary Heart Disease,” Phillippine Journal of Internal Medicine 30 (1992): 165-71.
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  1. Ivy,

    This is a great article! I work for Barlean’s customer service and many people call us concerned about the amount of saturated fat in coconut oil. Thank you for making this distinction between animal and plant based saturated fat.

    Best of health,

    Terernce Klein

  2. Thanks for the helpful information, Ivy. I too have coconut oil in my bathroom. I slather it on after taking a shower. Is that what you use it for in the bathroom?

  3. Ivy,

    I have tried to tell people there’s a
    difference when they comment about the saturated fat, but have used extra virgin, organic coconut oil only sparingly in my cooking. Thank you for the written explanation.

    Joan, Columbia, MD

  4. I think you’re doing a great job and your site is great. I’ve recommended it to several friends who are coping with MS, but it’s really for anyone and everyone.

    Just curious what you think of Andrew Weil coming out in Huff Post saying that saturated fat isn’t so bad anymore. Seems the people at the forefront of nutrition are saying dietary saturated fat is not only not linked to heart problems, it isn’t linked to weight gain either.

    And they aren’t even talking about grass-fed beef and pastured chickens and pork – just regular saturated fat!

    1. Hi Stephanie!!
      So sorry for the delay getting back to you! I didn’t know Dr. Weil posted that on Huff Post. However, I do still believe based on the research my husband (who’s an M.D.) and I have done that saturated fat from animal sources is not healthy. Saturated fat from animal food is pro-inflammatory and not good for anyone with an inflammatory condition (heart disease is even considered inflammatory). We started our research on diet bc/ I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (which is made worse by inflammation) in 1998 and my neurologist suggested I read the Swank Diet for MS, which strictly limits animal-based saturated fat. Since then I’ve learned MANY seemingly unrelated conditions share a common thread of inflammation. I think it’s best to eat animal foods in moderation as they are not anti-inflammatory due to the saturated fat. hope this helps?!

      P.S. thanks so much for the positive feedback on our site =)

    1. Hi Karen,

      Canned coconut is ok! I buyorganic if possible. By the way, the coconut ice cream sounds delish!!! If you have a recipe or a link to a recipe please feel free to share it here!!

      thanks so much =)

  5. Ivy I am your fan, this article actually clarified major confusion about saturated fats and coconut oil. Only thing I wish to know people in Siri Lanka and Kerala India eat and live on coconut but when I meet them they don’t look healthy to me both mentally and physically . Do I need my eyes checked or is there any stats that proves about they are in better shape then rest of the world.

  6. What exactly makes saturated fat from coconuts so much healthier than animal saturated fats?
    I’ve done some research, and what I found was that:
    – the hydrocarbon chains of the fatty acids that make up the fat in coconuts are shorter than most others. Biochemistry isn’t my strong suit, but I know that a short hydrocarbon fatty acid is, as far as you body is concerned, still a fatty acid. It’ll take less time to be completely used up and it contains less chemical energy, but they’re also more abundant per gram (since they are lighter molecules).
    – someone from Harvard medical school found that coconut fat consumption has an interesting effect on cholesterol levels but wasn’t sure whether it was beneficial or harmful.

  7. I’m sure there are posts about this somewhere online, I’m honestly just too lazy to sort through everything to determine if it’s good information or not. Can anyone tell me if coconut butter spread is good or bad for you? I don’t use dairy butter and use to use smart balance, but recently switched to earth balance coconut spread. I’ve always been a little concerned about all of the saturated fats in it, but continued to use it because it’s truly amazing stuff. I’ve heard arguments stating that it is both; that it is good and that it’s bad.

  8. Hi, I was curious if you had a recommended brand of coconut milk. I have read labels of the “commercialized” ones like so delicious and silk, but I know they aren’t fully unprocessed. What is a good organic, full fat brand that you use? Thanks!

    1. Hi Lauren.

      That’s a great question! I should really start to clarify my coconut milk recommendations now that there are so many different ones on the market. To date, I do not recommend any of the “commercialized” ones that are found in the refrigerated section. The coconut milk I use is the canned stuff (typically located in the Asian/ ethnic section of the supermarket) Native Forest is a great canned brand that is BPA free and fairly easy to locate.

      Hope this helps?

  9. The commentors below make their profit off of selling Heart Attack Causing SATURATED fats also known as coconut oil. They don’t care if they kill people in the pursuit of profit. Its all about t he dollar. OR their just ignorant. Ask any doctor if Saturated fats clog arteries. You’ll get a resounding yes they do. Olive Oil is the only fat you should eat. It contains mostly unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are easier for your body to break down, and don’t clog the arteries. Thats the difference. Spread the word, keep the wolves from killing people.

    1. Hi Michael! No, no–I buy coconut milk in a can (my favorite is BPA-free Native Forest) –I just don’t buy the ones in the refrigerated section that have a list of other ingredients (including sugar). Just look for coconut milk in the non-refrigerated section of the supermarket (it’s usually found in the ethnic section with the Thai food). Hope this helps?

  10. You mentioned eggs are bad fat. Well you have not done your homework. The fat in egg yolk are a good fat HDL. Eggs have been getting a bad rap for many years. But there are many reports that mentioned the opposite is true. Eggs are great.

    1. You are absolutely right Heidi! We are NOT against eating eggs at all (please be sure to read this article I wrote a while back about eggs and why we eat the yolk, etc: ) –when it comes to animal fats though, the quantity really is what makes the most difference. I absolutely eat eggs (from pasture-raised chickens) —but I don’t eat MASSIVE amounts. I think that’s the big thing to keep in mind with all animal foods. I’m definitely not vegan, but I really do think eating more plant-foods and plant-fats is healthier than eating predominantly animal foods/ animal fats. I should have made that more clear in the article…

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