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Ask the experts: Coconut oil health claims

Q. “Why is there so much information on the internet saying coconut oil is healthy, when Healthy Food Guide says coconut oil is not a healthy option?”

(Name not supplied)

A. The internet is full of information, but not all of it is equal. This is where it’s useful to cast a critical eye over the sources of the information you’re looking at. We searched on Google for ‘coconut oil benefits’ and found that of the first 10 results that came up, nine of the sites were also selling coconut oil, books on coconut oil or coconut oil diets.

Next time you’re unsure about a website’s credibility, think about the ‘5 Ws of cyberspace’:

  • Who: Who is the person behind the site? Is information about the author easy to find? Is the author qualified to give advice on this topic?
  • What: What are you getting? Is the information biased? Can it be verified by other sources?
  • When: How old is the information? Is it current?
  • Where: What’s the nature of the site? Is it a commercial enterprise, a personal home page or an independent body?
  • Why: Why would I use this site as a credible source of information? Why is this person giving me this information? Can I verify the facts?

Here are just a few of the false claims we found on some of the websites about coconut oil:

  • Coconut oil contains fewer calories than other fats. (In fact, the energy content of coconut oil is exactly the same as any other oil.)
  • Coconut oil helps build up the immune system. (There is simply no evidence to support this claim.)
  • Coconut oil helps prevent heart disease. (In fact, local and overseas research has shown that while coconut oil may not be as harmful as dairy fats to our cholesterol levels, it is worse than widely available polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils.)
  • Coconut oil can help cure cancer and HIV. (There is no evidence to support this claim.)

So while there is certainly a lot of information on coconut oil, especially on the internet, there is little quality information from credible sources. There is also a disturbing amount of misinformation.

These websites are good places to start when you’re looking for credible, useful information on health and nutrition:

Heart Foundation NZ
NZ Ministry of Health
The Mayo Clinic
International Food Information Council Foundtion (Food Insight)
NZ Dietetic Association


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