Cyanide is a poison. Rattlesnake venom is a poison. Certain household products can be a poison. But coconut oil? One professor seems to think so, colliding head-on with consumers who believe it’s good for them.
In her lecture at the University of Freiburg — entirely in German and posted in July — professor Karin Michels, of the university’s Institute for Prevention and Tumor Epidemiology, calls the health claims surrounding coconut oil “absolute nonsense” and says it’s “pure poison” for its saturated fat content and its threat to cardiovascular health. The video of her lecture has amassed close to a million views and counting.
“Coconut oil is one of the worst things you can eat,” Michels said.
While others have taken a more measured view, they hardly buy into the ballyhoo. A 2016 survey in the New York Times suggested that 72% of Americans think coconut oil is healthy, versus only 37% of nutritionists polled.
“There are many claims being made about coconut oil being wonderful for lots of different things, but we really don’t have any evidence of long-term health benefits,” said Dr. Walter C. Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where Michels is also an adjunct professor.
“Coconut oil is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of types of fats. It’s probably better than partially hydrogenated oils, [which are] high in trans fats, but not as good as the more unsaturated plant oils that have proven health benefits, like olive and canola oil,” Willett previously told CNN.
Health organizations tend to discourage the use of coconut oil, which is more than 80% saturated fat. The American Heart Association says it’s better on your skin than in your food, and it recommends that no more than 5% or 6% of your daily calories come from saturated fats — about 13 grams per day. The association also advocates replacing coconut oil with “healthy fats” such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, like those found in canola and olive oils, avocados and fatty fish.
Coconut oil is “probably not quite as ‘bad’ as butter but not as good as extra virgin olive oil,” Kevin Klatt, a molecular nutrition researcher at Cornell University who is studying the metabolic effects of coconut oil, previously said.