In a recent interview with mindbodygreen, Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey expressed his dislike for oil—coconut oil included. "The way I try to get people to understand oil is: What is sugar? You're taking a whole plant food, and you're taking only the carbohydrate out. Oil is the same thing—you're taking the whole plant food, and taking out just the fat," he said. "People are so willing to condemn sugar, but they don't condemn oil, which is pure fat. I'd actually argue that oil is less healthy than sugar. Neither of them has any nutrients in them—if you look at them they're devoid of minerals and phytonutrients. The oil has twice the calories of sugar, so you're getting twice the calories of sugar, with no nutrients or benefits."
Dr. Will Cole, a functional medicine practitioner, disagrees. "While going for whole foods is always a good rule to live by, healthy oils have a number of benefits. Coconut oil has beneficial MCT fats that our brains love, increasing cognitive function. Avocado oil is a good source of lutein, a carotenoid to make our eyes healthy. Extra-virgin olive oil is rich with polyphenols and fat-soluble vitamins E and K. Ghee is a great food source of fat-soluble A, D, and K2. These oils have been shown to decrease disease and improve lipid panels."
Dr. Sara Gottfried, a hormone specialist, somewhat agrees with Mackey. "Refined sugar has very different effects in the body compared with oil, particularly on the hormone insulin," she says. "If Mackey's subtext is that we choose to eat oil in a less processed state, such as eating the more oily foods like avocado, coconut, macadamia nuts, and olives, then I agree with only that part of his argument. I'm a whole foodist. I prefer to get my nutrients from the very nourishing foods that are simply prepared, i.e., minimize the processing including the extraction of oil." That said, she does think coconut oil is a health food—but only for some types of people.
"I think coconut oil is a health food for some people with particular genes," she explains. "For instance, if you have the ApoE4 gene, the gene that confers an increased risk of Alzheimer's and heart disease, it may not be the best idea to be adding tablespoon after tablespoon to your latte."
According to Bulletproof diet founder (and good fat-advocate) Dave Asprey, there's one situation you in which should definitely avoid coconut oil. "If you're not eating your vegetables," he says, "coconut oil is bad for you. Coconut oil will escort the bad parts of your gut bacteria into your bloodstream. A tablespoon or two of coconut oil is great—if you eat it with a ton of veggies, you're fine. But if you eat it with whole grains, or sugar, it's likely to have negative effects on your body."