Coconut oil is a member of the family of tropical oils, which also include palm, palm kernel, cocoa, and shea nut oils. These oils have been used for centuries in the traditional diets of people living in tropical regions such as the Polynesian islands. Because these populations experience less of the diseases, such as heart disease, that are common in Western countries, some people believe that tropical oils such as coconut oil, especially in their natural state, can be part of a healthful diet.1 , 2 Currently, these oils are used in Western countries in small amounts, primarily in the production of processed foods.
The traditional diets of Pacific Islanders contains several grams per day or more of lauric acid from coconut products, which would require at least one tablespoon per day of coconut oil. Research has not established a recommended intake for coconut oil.
Coconut oil can also be used topically, as in the treatment of head lice.
Coconut oil may be found in many types of processed foods, including fried foods, crackers, desserts, candies, whipped topping, and non-dairy creamers. It is also available in some grocery stores for use in cooking.
There is no human requirement for coconut oil or the shorter-length fatty acids it contains, so no deficiency is possible.
Serious allergic reactions to coconut or coconut oil have been reported but are considered rare.3 , 4 , 5
People using large amounts of coconut oil in their diet should have their blood cholesterol levels checked regularly.
1. Prior IA, Davidson F, Salmond CE, Czochanska Z. Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau island studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:1552-61.
2. Kaunitz H, Dayrit CS. Coconut oil consumption and coronary heart disease. Philippine J Intern Med 1992;30:165-71 [review].
3. Rosado A, Fernandez-Rivas M, Gonzalez-Mancebo E, et al. Anaphylaxis to coconut. Allergy 2002;57:182-3.
4. Teuber SS, Peterson WR. Systemic allergic reaction to coconut (Cocos nucifera) in 2 subjects with hypersensitivity to tree nut and demonstration of cross-reactivity to legumin-like seed storage proteins: new coconut and walnut food allergens. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1999;103:1180-5.
5. Couturier P, Basset-Stheme D, Navette N, Sainte-Laudy J. A case of coconut oil allergy in an infant: responsibility of "maternalized" infant formulas. Allerg Immunol (Paris) 1994;26:386-7 [in French].
Last Review: 07-01-2014
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