Coconut oil may be Australia’s latest health craze, but this innocuous looking substance has nutrition experts concerned, sparking calls to “think twice” before eating it regularly.

Endorsed by fashion models, celebrities and chefs for use in cooking and baking, coconut oil is being spruiked as 2016’s cure-all product, with claims that it helps with weight reduction, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, wound healing and even brain function.

As canny marketers jump on the bandwagon, the product’s list of attributes appears endless, including claims that it’s a ‘natural’ treatment for Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), thyroid conditions, diabetes, dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

But in its latest e-bulletin, the British Nutrition Foundation warns high consumption of “saturated fatty acid-laden coconut oil is a public health concern”.

Coconut oil comprises 99.9% fatty acids; of these 91.9% are saturated fatty acids, 6.4% are monounsaturated fatty acids and 1.5% are polyunsaturated fatty acids.

“Not only does using coconut oil in place of other fats go against dietary guidelines which recommend reducing intake of saturated fatty acids, but at 9 calories per gram, pure fats are the most calorie-dense food source,” writes nutrition scientist Dr Stacey Lockyer.

Explanations for why the product may lead to weight loss include ideas that medium chain triglycerides are ‘instantly’ metabolised by the body rather than being stored. However, Dr Lockyer and colleagues say there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that coconut oil leads to a reduction in adiposity or indeed CVD risk.

Similarly, to their knowledge, no human studies have demonstrated any immune-boosting properties or positive cognitive effects of coconut oil.

In conclusion, they say, there is little evidence to support any health-promoting effects of the product.

Olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. and rapeseed oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acid, are both a much better bet, they say.

Last Reviewed: 15/03/2016