Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries? How Much Is Safe??

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Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries? How Much Is Safe
Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries? How Much Is Safe?? Graphic © Background Illustration: Pixabay (PD)

In 2016, The New York Times published an article on what the public considers ‘healthy’ food and compared the information with nutrition experts’ opinions. The results were pretty clear-cut when it came to obvious items such as fruit and vegetables (e.g. apples, kale, oranges) which topped the list as ‘healthy’ and processed food (e.g. cookies, ice cream, pizza) which ranked last.

However, a number of items were ambiguous, falling somewhere in the middle, one of which was coconut oil

Popular Opinion On Coconut Oil Versus Reality

In the poll conducted by the Morning Consult, over 72% of respondents believed that coconut oil was healthy. [1] On the other hand, nutritionists who were members of the American Society for Nutrition begged to differ, with the numbers dropping to 37%.

This can be due to the fact that coconut oil is made up of 100% fat, 80-90% of which is saturated fat. [2] In 2020, the American Heart Association reiterated their recommendation to limit saturated fat intake in order to reduce the risk for heart disease.

Saturated fat is claimed to raise LDL levels – LDL is a type of cholesterol that damages blood vessels, which can cause a clog in an artery and lead to a stroke or heart attack. However, in a review of research into dietary saturated fat and heart disease, researcher J. Heileson points out in 2020 that the trials that the AHA used were inconsistent in their results, and that this recommendation to limit SFAs (saturated fatty acids) may need to be reevaluated. [3][4]

A popular video by (by Dr. Michael Greger) asks a very important question, “Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries?” Dr. Greger mentions a study conducted in the Philippines by Feranil, et. al. in 2011, which showed that coconut oil intake was able to improve HDL levels, or “good cholesterol”. [5] However this study had some limitations – notably that the study only used a 48-hour food recall and a lipid profile blood test. Despite the finding of an association between good cholesterol and coconut oil intake, the researchers still recommended that further studies needed to be done.

Coconut Oil And Obesity

One of the factors that were not included in the Philippine study was obesity, which Assuncao, et. al. had covered in their study in 2009. [6] The trial included women on a calorie-restricted diet (to lower their BMI) who were given coconut oil supplementation over three months. Despite losing weight, LDL levels still increased or remained the same, suggesting an adverse effect of coconut oil.

Dr. Greger’s video mentioned another famous study, wherein coconut oil supplementation was done over a month, added to the respondents’ regular diet. There was no significant change in their cholesterol levels though results showed a decrease in central or visceral adiposity (“belly fat”). [7] Furthermore, he cites a randomized, cross-over study that showed that a coconut oil supplemented diet significantly increased total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL levels compared to other oils (palm oil and olive oil) and another wherein SFAs in coconut oil did not cause an increase in inflammatory markers for heart disease compared to SFAs from animal fat. [8][9]

So Is Coconut Oil Good Or Bad? It’s Complicated!

Since Dr. Greger’s influential video was put up in 2013, numerous further studies on coconut oil have also been published. So, do the recommendations of the American Heart Association to avoid coconut oil and to “use it sparingly” still hold up today? The short answer is “it’s complicated” and even after digging through a mountain of studies, things were not absolutely clear cut. Here’s a summary of our findings:

In 2020, a meta-analysis of 16 studies by Neelakantan, et. al. concluded that coconut oil, compared to other non-tropical vegetable oils, still increased total cholesterol and LDL levels significantly. [10] This is the study published in the Circulation journal by the American Heart Association that they use to back up their advice to avoid coconut oil. However, according to Wallace (2018), the effects of coconut oil on weight loss and heart disease still need to be studied further because there is very limited evidence on its effects on Alzheimer’s disease, bone health, or blood sugar levels. [11]

in 2016, Eyres, et. al.’s review of 21 papers revealed the same results as Neelakantan: coconut oil did in fact raise total cholesterol and LDL levels. However, the same study mentioned that observational studies suggested that eating coconut flesh or squeezed coconut (such as cream or milk which are typically found in Asian cuisine) did not significantly increase the risk for heart disease. [12] If you are worried about your cholesterol, coconut milk or cream could be a better alternative for you.

Another literature review in 2020 by Teng, et. al. found that coconut oil was actually able to improve lipid profile levels compared to other plant oils because it significantly increased HDL by 0.57 mg/dl (remember, HDL is good cholesterol) and LDL by only 0.26 mg/dl. [13] One study covered in this analysis reported that extra-virgin coconut oil exhibited similar benefits to olive oil and did not raise LDL levels at all!

A more recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in May 2021 studied a variety of tropical plant oils, coconut oil included, and found that it was able to increase HDL levels significantly by 2.27 mg/dl. The same analysis also found the coconut oil increased LDL levels compared with PUFAs but this increase was insignificant; similarly, the increase in LDL was lower than other oils and was not statistically significant. [14] The results of these studies show that there are benefits to coconut oil, mainly because of its ability raise good cholesterol levels while keep LDL levels low.

In 2018, Sankararaman and Sferra highlighted that coconut oil is a great source of medium-chain triglycerides, which has been shown to help with weight loss and obesity. [15][16] However, because they could potentially raise your LDLs (even by a small margin), they recommend not to exceed the USDA recommendation of less than 10% of your total caloric intake – very good advice. All things in moderation!

How Much Coconut Oil Should You Eat?

Calculating the USDA recommendation into an actual amount: Given that a general caloric guideline is 2500 for men and 2000 for women per day, 10% would be 250 and 200 calories respectively. Coconut oil is high in calories – 900 calories per 100 grams. So this would give a maximum figure of 27.78 grams per day for men (approx 1oz) and 22.22 grams per day for women (just over 3/4 oz). To put that into perspective, a heaped tablespoon of coconut oil (solidified) is around 14 grams, so the max would be 2 tablespoons per day for men and 1.5 for women. This is fairly well in line with the often-heard tip from nutritionists to include “a tablespoon per day in the diet”.

Other Benefits Of Coconut Oil

There are other benefits to coconut oil you may not be aware of. De la Rubia, et. al. in 2018 conducted a study on coconut oil and its effects on Alzheimer’s Disease. [17] Coconut oil was able to improve cognitive functions in patients given supplementation through a Mediterranean diet.

An older study published in 2003 found that because of the lauric acid content of coconut oil, it was able to help prevent hair loss by strengthening the hair strands. [18] That very same lauric acid in coconut oil has also been found to potentially be cardioprotective because it is able to lower cholesterol in in vivo studies. [19] This is what Wallace [11] meant when he said there is more to coconut oil that must be studied. Coconut oil is made up of over 50 percent of medium-chain fatty acids, which coconut oil being the highest natural source of lauric acid. [20]

When it comes to diets, Katz and Meller [21] hit the nail on the head. Healthful eating involves including a variety of food in your diet, and that excluding one food type completely could do more harm than good. If anything, there is more to coconut oil that the warnings of the AHA against it, and there maybe more benefits to it than what know now.

How Is Coconut Oil Made?

Coconut oil, derived from the kernel or meat of mature coconuts, is produced through various methods, each influencing the quality and characteristics of the oil.

The method of extraction plays a crucial role in determining the quality of coconut oil. Cold pressing and fermentation methods yield high-quality VCO with maximum retention of natural nutrients and flavors, while methods like chemical extraction and heated expeller pressing produce more oil but with possible alterations in quality.

Methods of Coconut Oil Extraction

1. Cold Pressing: This method involves pressing the coconut meat at low temperatures to extract the oil. Cold pressing preserves the natural flavor, aroma, and nutritional content of the oil, resulting in high-quality virgin coconut oil (VCO). The process does not involve heat or chemical solvents, ensuring the oil retains its natural properties.

2. Centrifuge Method: In this method, coconut milk is first extracted from the meat and then centrifuged to separate the oil. This process is efficient and retains the quality of the oil, producing high-grade VCO.

3. Heated Expeller Method: The expeller method involves pressing the coconut meat under high pressure and often heat. While this method yields more oil compared to cold pressing, the heat can alter the oil’s flavor and reduce some of its nutritional properties.

4. Chemical Extraction: This method uses solvents to extract coconut oil, typically from copra*, which is dried coconut meat. While efficient in extracting a high yield of oil, chemical extraction can lead to lower quality oil with potential solvent residues.

5. Fermentation Method: This traditional method involves natural fermentation of coconut milk, which separates the oil from water and solids. The process is time-consuming and the yield is lower, but it produces high-quality VCO.

Quality Grades of Coconut Oil:

Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO): Extracted from fresh coconut meat without using high temperatures or chemicals. VCO retains most of the natural nutrients, flavor, and aroma of the coconut.

Refined Coconut Oil: Often made from copra, refined coconut oil undergoes bleaching and deodorizing processes. It has a neutral flavor and higher smoke point but lacks some of the natural nutrients found in VCO.

Organic Coconut Oil: Produced from organically grown coconuts and without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. It can be either virgin or refined. [22][23][24][25]

* What is Copra?

Copra is the dried meat, or kernel, of the coconut. It is obtained from the inner flesh of coconuts, which is extracted from the hard shell of the fruit. The process of making copra involves cutting the coconut, removing the husk, and drying the coconut meat. The drying can be done using various methods, such as sun drying, smoke drying, or kiln drying.

Once dried, copra contains a high oil content, typically around 60-70%, making it a valuable raw material for the extraction of coconut oil. The oil extracted from copra is used in various applications, including cooking, cosmetics, and industrial uses. Additionally, after oil extraction, the remaining copra meal is used as an animal feed due to its high protein content.

The quality of coconut oil largely depends on the quality of the copra used. If the copra is not dried properly, it can lead to the growth of molds and the production of aflatoxins, which are harmful to health. Therefore, proper handling and processing of copra are crucial to ensure the quality of the coconut oil produced.

The Compounds Found In Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is predominantly composed of medium-chain fatty acids, with lauric acid being the most abundant. These fatty acids contribute to the oil’s health benefits, including antimicrobial properties and energy production. The presence of other fatty acids like myristic, caprylic, capric, palmitic, oleic, linoleic, and stearic acids adds to the nutritional value of coconut oil.[26]

Here is a list of individual molecular compounds present in coconut oil, based on the latest scientific research.

Fatty Acids in Coconut Oil:

1. Lauric Acid (C12H24O2) (45%-52%): Constituting about 49% of coconut oil, lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) that is known for its antimicrobial properties. In the body, lauric acid transforms into monolaurin, enhancing its functionality.

2. Myristic Acid (C14H28O2) (16%-21%): Comprising 8-21% of coconut oil, myristic acid is a saturated fatty acid contributing to the oil’s physical and nutritional properties.

3. Caprylic Acid (C8H16O2) (5%-10%): This MCFA makes up about 8% of coconut oil and is known for its easy absorption and conversion to energy.

4. Capric Acid (C10H20O2) (4%-8%): Present at approximately 7%, capric acid is another MCFA in coconut oil, valued for its antimicrobial and energy-yielding properties.

5. Palmitic Acid (C16H32O2) (7%-10%): This long-chain saturated fatty acid constitutes about 8% of coconut oil.

6. Oleic Acid (C18H34O2) (5%-8%): A monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid accounts for 5-8% of coconut oil.

7. Linoleic Acid (C18H32O2) (1%-3%): This polyunsaturated fatty acid is found in smaller amounts, ranging from 1-3% in coconut oil.

8. Stearic Acid (C16H36O2) (2%-4%): Present in minor quantities, stearic acid is another long-chain saturated fatty acid in coconut oil. [27][28][29]

Other Components:

In addition to these fatty acids, coconut oil contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. However, it does not contain cholesterol, fiber, or significant quantities of plant sterols. [30]


[1] Quealy, K. & Sanger-Katz, M. (2016). Is Sushi ‘Healthy’? What About Granola? Where Americans and Nutritionists Disagree.

[2] Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Coconut Oil.

[3] American Heart Association. Saturated Fat.

[4] Heileson, J. (2020). Dietary saturated fat and heart disease: a narrative review.

[5] Feranil, A., et. al. (2011). Coconut oil is associated with a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines.

[6] Assuncao, M., et. al. (2009). Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity.

[7] Liau, K., et. al. (2011). An Open-Label Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Virgin Coconut Oil in Reducing Visceral Adiposity.

[8] Voon, P., et. al. (2011). Diets high in palmitic acid (16:0), lauric and myristic acids (12:0 + 14:0), or oleic acid (18:1) do not alter postprandial or fasting plasma homocysteine and inflammatory markers in healthy Malaysian adults.

[9] Myhrstad, M., et. al. (2011). Effect of the fat composition of a single high-fat meal on inflammatory markers in healthy young women.

[10] Neelakantan, N., et. al. (2020). The Effect of Coconut Oil Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors.

[11] Wallace, T. (2018). Health Effects of Coconut Oil-A Narrative Review of Current Evidence.

[12] Eyres, L., et. al. (2016). Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans.

[13] Teng, et. al. (2020). Impact of coconut oil consumption on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

[14] Unhapipatpong, C., et. al. (2021). Tropical Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Disease: An Umbrella Review of Systematic Reviews and Meta Analyses.

[15] Sankaramanan, S. & Sferra, T. (2018). Are We Going Nuts on Coconut Oil?

[16] Myrie, S., et. al. (2011). Medium-Chain Triglyceride.

[17] dela Rubia Orti, et. al. (2018) Improvement of Main Cognitive Functions in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease after Treatment with Coconut Oil Enriched Mediterranean Diet: A Pilot Study.

[18] Rele, A. & Mohile, R. (2003). Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage.

[19] Sheela, D., et. al. (2016). In Silico and Wet Lab Studies Reveal the Cholesterol Lowering Efficacy of Lauric Acid, a Medium Chain Fat of Coconut Oil.

[20] Boateng, L., et. al. (2016). Coconut oil and palm oil’s role in nutrition, health and national development: A review.

[21] Katz D, Meller S. (2014) Can we say what diet is best for health? Annu Rev Public Health.

[22] “A comprehensive review on the techniques for coconut oil extraction and its application” –

[23] “How Coconut Oil Is Made: The Ultimate Guide” – [Virginutty]

[24] “Coconut Oil Manufacturing Process” – [SRM Coconut Oil]

[25] “Extraction Methods of Virgin Coconut Oil and Palm‐pressed Mesocarp Oil and their Phytonutrients” –

[26] “Coconut oil and palm oil’s role in nutrition, health and national development: A review” –

[27] “Chemistry and composition of coconut oil and its biological activities” (2022)

[28] “Coconut oil” – [Wikipedia]

[29] “The Chemistry of Coconut Oil” – [Chemistryislife]

[30] “Chemical composition of coconut oil” –

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