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Are Coconut Products Really Good for Your Health?

You may have noticed that most people in the Paleo community are cuckoo for coconut products of all kinds including oil, creme, butter, milk, kefir and flakes. It is hailed for its rich saturated and medium-chain fatty acid content, antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties, low levels of PUFA, and the ability to remain stable in high heat cooking. So, you will see it is encouraged in almost every Paleo cookbook or website around and is held in the highest esteem in many other diet philosophies as well.

Since its medium-chain fatty acids (also known as medium chain triglycerides) don’t have to be acted upon with bile, they can be absorbed rapidly through the small intestine and then the liver converts it into ketone bodies, therefore providing a quick source of energy. This ketone characteristic has also made coconut oil a very successful treatment for a wide variety of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Ketones can be used in the brain instead of glucose, which these individuals are having trouble utilizing.

Additionally, coconut is low in sugar, therefore it doesn’t spike insulin too much; making it a good source of fat for many people and health issues like Candida overgrowth, adrenal fatigue, depression, anxiety, migraines, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and many more.

These are all great qualities, but there are a couple things to keep in mind. In an evolutionary context, not very many of our ancestors were eating coconut, because they simply didn’t have access to it, unless they were from the tropics. Many people will say, “well people in the tropics eat these foods abundantly without any negative consequences”, but I say people in the tropics would be genetically adapted to do so, while those of us outside the tropics not necessarily so.

Additionally, coconut contains a substantial amount of phytic acid (phytate), a known gut irritant that inhibits absorption of minerals like iron and zinc and digestive enzymes like pepsin, amylase and trypsin. Furthermore, it is also high in salicylates, an organic acid that plants use for protection against infection or disease, which can cause symptoms like nausea, GI distress, fatigue, itching, hyperactivity, burning eyes, nasal congestion and others for many people as well. Last, but not least, coconut is very high in fiber, which can be problematic as well for some people with gut or bowel issues like irritable bowel. This is particularly true of coconut flakes; they are very high in fiber and can cause significant inflammation. Coconut is also considered a FODMAPS food, which can cause gastrointestinal distress for some people as well.

Therefore, some people are not adapted very well genetically for its consumption and it may cause a variety of problems like gut irritation and inflammation, nausea, gallbladder issues, and digestive disturbances in certain individuals. Additionally, many people develop a food sensitivity to coconut, which can result in a wide array of symptoms affecting the gut, skin, brain, nervous system, etc.

I happen to be one of those people. I can, and do, eat a little coconut butter, an occasional coconut smoothie or other miscellaneous coconut products, once in a while as a treat, because it is delicious, but I can’t eat it regularly or it irritates my gut and just makes me feel yucky all over. Additionally, coconut oil gives me extreme nausea and it will give me a severe gallbladder attack if very much is consumed. As a matter of fact, there is no other food that impacts my gallbladder (I have a temperamental gallbladder) as negatively as coconut oil. I’m not sure why this is, but I have heard this story from some of my clients as well. I love coconut flakes, but they tear up my both my small and large intestine, and result in excruciating pain if too much is eaten.

However, on the other hand, I have found coconut butter to be very helpful for my migraines. If I eat a little coconut butter with fruit and nuts as soon as I feel a migraine beginning to form, I can often turn it off, or minimize the severity significantly enough that I can still function.

Furthermore, coconut is a very concentrated source of fat; so like all “concentrated” sources of fat, it can overstimulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and endorphins in the brain and result in compulsive overeating or food addiction for some people. Since it also contains a bit of sugar, which also stimulates endorphins and dopamine, this combination may be too stimulating for the food addicted. If you crave coconut products, then you may be dealing with this issue. However, on the other hand, you may also crave it because it is a quick source of energy or you need more fat in your diet, so it may be giving you something you’re missing.

So, my goal in this discussion is not to discourage you from eating coconut products, but to simply make you aware that coconut is not the perfect “miracle” food for everyone that many claim it to be and you should be mindful of how it impacts your body and adjust your diet accordingly. This is especially true for people who have leaky gut, irritable bowel, Crohn’s, colitis, inflammatory bowel, or any other bowel, gastrointestinal disorder or autoimmune disorder, arthritis, hyperactivity, attention deficit, food addiction or compulsive overeating.

You may be someone who has no issues with coconut products and can eat it freely, or you may be an individual who needs to avoid it completely, or perhaps you’re someone who can eat it in moderation, or maybe you can eat one form but not another. For example, in my own life, I reserve my coconut consumption to desserts I make on the holidays or a special treat here and there, and the days when I have a migraine. When I do indulge, I stick mostly with coconut butter or milk; since I must be very careful with the oil and flakes. Find what works for your body.

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Donna January 14, 2014, 7:28 am

    Hi,
    So great to here someone writing some truth about coconut oil, I can’t handle it either. It makes me feel just AWFUL, it takes days to get over.
    I use it on my skin instead!!!
    Thanks again
    Donna S.

  • Keldrmilne January 14, 2014, 1:38 pm

    Several times now, I have read information on your blog that other, popular natural/holistic healers seem to either not be aware of or acknowledge. All other candida diets recommend eating coconut oil, however, I’ve been wondering what is going on with my gallbladder these days! Thanks for this information. All things in moderation for me, Iguess.

  • Lauren B January 14, 2014, 1:40 pm

    Does using coconut oil on your skin cause the same reactions since it’s also absorbed that way?

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins January 14, 2014, 6:16 pm

    Hi Lauren,

    Well it depends…

    If one has a true food sensitivity to coconut, then yes, using it on the skin would be the same as eating it. It should be eliminated. If there is a sensitivity to a food, then all forms of the food must be avoided.

    However, if one is having a reaction to coconut for other reasons, e.g. salicylates, gallbladder issues or just because it is a gut irritant, then using it on the skin may not cause any problems.

    I would recommend to quit using it on the skin and see if any symptoms disappear. Then reintroduce in a few weeks and see if any symptoms return. If it is causing symptoms, then it would be best to eliminate.

    Best
    Cynthia

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins January 14, 2014, 6:17 pm

    Hi Keldrmilne,

    You’re welcome.

    Yes, unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation and half-truths floating around.

    While it is true that coconut oil has some antifungal properties, it is my opinion that it is not potent enough to do too much good by itself. If one tolerates coconut okay, then it can’t hurt to use it as part of a comprehensive plan to address Candida, but it’s going to need a lot of help. If one has problems with coconut for one reason or another, then avoiding it is not going to be a great loss as far as Candida goes.

    Best
    Cynthia

  • Lauren Baker January 15, 2014, 4:02 pm

    Thanks for your post Cynthia. So what would you recommend as the best cooking oil? Pure butter? Grassfed? Olive oil doesn’t hold up in high heat. And what about Red Palm Oil? That’s like the newest fad I keep hearing about. I bought some and found it mostly benign so far. It turns foods slightly red.

  • Andrea January 16, 2014, 1:51 pm

    I too am very sensitive to coconut anything. Thank you for this post. It helps one feel better about all the misconceptons out there. I have a very limited diet and feel better than I have in years. No grains, legumes, nightshades and limited fruits, even cut red organic grass fed meats. Over the course of 12 years I have lost 160lbs. I can attest there is no one single diet one should follow to a T. I am excited to read that coconut helps with migranes. Definately forwarding this to a dear friend whom suffers. I appreciate your blog, keep it coming!

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins January 17, 2014, 6:42 pm

    Well, if one doesn’t have any issues with coconut oil, it is the best oil to cook with in high heat, if you don’t mind the flavor. Personally, I don’t like using coconut oil with eggs or meat because it overpowers the flavor and you can’t taste anything but coconut. IMHO, coconut tastes good with fruit and nuts, but not meat and eggs. Red palm oil can be used for cooking as well. But most other oils should not be used for cooking.

    Any animal fat, like lard, tallow, butter, and ghee are good choices for cooking as well. Of course, it should all be grass-fed.

    However, you can avoid the need for any of these if you simply don’t fry. I recommend baking or broiling for meats and steaming for vegetables, then sprinkle a little of whatever oil you prefer on top afterwards. You can also fry with a little water and then sprinkle with oil afterwards. I prefer butter or ghee for my eggs, but I don’t ever fry my meat, and I steam my vegetables.

    You’re welcome, Lauren and Andrea.

    Best
    Cynthia

  • Lauren March 7, 2014, 10:26 pm

    Where do you get your grass fed meat from, and how do you afford it?

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins March 8, 2014, 1:07 pm

    I buy most of my meat from U.S. Wellness Meats, which is delivered to my door by Fedex. But you can find grass-fed at most of the health food stores and even many of the traditional grocery stores.

    I can afford it because I make the food that I put in my body my number one priority. Eating meat that is not organic and grass-fed is not an option. Period.

    Best
    Cynthia

  • Lauren March 10, 2014, 2:59 pm

    Cynthia,

    I’m really beginning to think it’s something I need to prioritize a bit more. I tend to take the easy road and buy meats at the grocery store that claim to be “natural” even when I know this is false advertising. I buy organic fruits and vegetables, but just don’t seem to go there with meat for some reason. I’m going to definitely consider doing this more often. Are any meats safe to purchase without being grass fed/finished? Chicken should be free-ranging and organic? Finally, do you ever eat out at restaurants? Do you worry about the meat you’re getting there?
    Thanks for the info!

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins March 18, 2014, 9:04 pm

    Lauren,

    Making the food you eat your number one priority is a must. There is no excuse when one knows better. I will be posting an article on this topic in the near future.

    Well organic meat is always better than conventional meat. But organic does not mean it is grass-fed. You can find all the reasons you should eat grass-fed by using the search function on my site. Like the following page for example:

    http://www.holistichelp.net/blog/does-eating-red-meat-really-cause-cardiovascular-disease-cancer-and-premature-death/

    Of course, poultry and eggs should be organic and free-range as well.

    I don’t eat out very often. When I do, I typically eat at the organic cafe.

    However, I will eat at Chipotles once or twice a year, because they use free-range meat and are in the process of phasing out all GMOs.

    An occasional transgression is not going to be too detrimental, but if the food you bring into your home and eat on a daily basis is not organic, grass-fed, free-range, then it is going to lead to problems.

    Cynthia

  • Ava Mihalik May 7, 2017, 2:36 pm

    I could sit here all day, and most times do and learn! I have Idiopathic Gastroaresis, and no gallbladder, and Hoshymotos thyroidtis. If it was not for coconut oil, I’d probalbley be dead, I can eat it by the spoonful!? We are all so diffrent right. Some days sea salt water and coconut oil, and my Source of Life Liquid (GOLD) vitamins, is all I can hold down.The Mayo Clinic IN MN. Neutrichionalist “said oh all you need is low fat, soft, high carbs and no you don’t need any vitamins (really she said that). That was to protacol see gave us for GP and we are still indet from that trip 2 years later.And look at all the info we are getting HERE and it’s True and FREE we are blessed. I am on AIP diet and its the hardest thing a person like me can do, but its do or die at this point.Thanks for your, time. Ava

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