Coconut Oil isn’t that Great

Photo by Delfina Cocciardi on Unsplash

Just as with olive oil and other oils, which have environmental impacts when compared with the energy required to produce them, coconut oil comes with its own set of unique considerations.

An oil’s environmental impact depends on what it is used for. In addition to being a food, coconut oil is considered a plant based material.

1. It’s a Cheap Damaging Source of Oil

As a relatively cheap, widely available material, it is often used for packaging. If the product is kept in a closed container, the plastic typically stays with it when recycled, so there is no additional effort involved in its recycling.

But when it comes to the packaging itself, coconut oil tends to be mixed with several other oils. When this mixture is put through the recycling process, it creates extra packaging waste. And the material from which the oil is made is often produced using processes that are not considered environmentally friendly. For example, manufacturers often use chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, refrigerants. These were widely used in homes and businesses until they were banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. In turn, they were replaced with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which were once considered to be safer but are now being phased out. The refrigerants that are still used are found in everything from air conditioners to car tires, and their breakdown products are thought to be even more harmful to the environment than the CFCs they replaced.

2. It’s Not as Diet Friendly as You Think

Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which the American Heart Association recommends limiting. But research suggests that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may not be the answer. In fact, replacing a diet high in saturated fat with a diet low in polyunsaturated fat is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This doesn’t necessarily mean coconut oil is bad for us. But it is certainly not the health food that many proponents claim.

Coconut oil is also a form of vegetable fat and is not an animal product. Like butter and lard, it is often used as a fat source in foods, and it is now even found in some high-protein food products such as many common nut butters. While the fat may be less “bad” than other saturated fats, it is still a fatty acid, and there is growing concern about high levels of polyunsaturated fats in people’s diets. Studies have shown that high consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, like those found in tropical oils, can lead to inflammation and to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. But as with saturated fat, people who eat a lot of coconut oil tend to do it in a wide variety of foods, rather than just in a salad dressing or baked good.

A much better choice for many people might be an avocado. In the U.S., an estimated three million tons of avocados are produced each year, and in the process of production, most of the fruit is discarded. In contrast, the U.S.A. consumes three billion pounds of coconut oil each year, which suggests a serious shortage of the fruit in the U.S. But many people do have a personal preference for avocado, even if it means that they do not get their nutritional needs met. However, even when avocado consumption is increased, the fat and cholesterol in the fruit can still raise heart disease risk.

3. There’s Other Choices of Oils

Other food choices might better help the environment. As vegan foods become more popular, people are less inclined to buy products that use unsustainable sources of materials, such as palm oil or other tropical oils. If we consume less beef and more soy, we might also be less likely to eat an environmentally damaging salad dressing made with coconut oil. In fact, scientists believe that we could actually get more vitamins and minerals from one avocado than from four ounces of lean ground beef.

So coconut oil might not be so bad after all. But it is still not a healthy choice. If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, or if you have a medical condition that is compromised by saturated fat, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, make sure that you choose a fat source that is healthy for you. Many people find that plant-based fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and animal fat from grass-fed animals, are low in saturated fat. These are preferable fats for health and the environment.

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Nature is beautiful and I care about the world around me. I enjoy too much coffee while my dog Coco enjoys too much rainy weather. The world has its secrets.

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Oe Kaori

Oe Kaori

Nature is beautiful and I care about the world around me. I enjoy too much coffee while my dog Coco enjoys too much rainy weather. The world has its secrets.

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