Here is the history of the tropical oils war from Dr. Bruce Fife’s book, The Coconut Oil Miracle (previously titled The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil) and The Palm Oil Miracle. This story explains how coconut oil became a “despised artery-clogging villain” after being used for many years and being considered a healthy oil with research reports as far back as the 1950s.
Until the late 1980s tropical oils were common ingredients in many foods and were used extensively because they gave foods desirable properties. For example, plant-derived saturated fats are highly stable and do not go rancid as do polyunsaturated oils (PUFA) do. Foods made with tropical oils remained fresh longer. Now it’s hard to find foods made with tropical oils. Nearly 80% of the vegetable oils in the United States today (written in 2001) comes from soybeans of which 75% is partially hydrogenated (containing up to 50% trans fatty acids). In 1982 a restaurant meal contained 2.4 grams of trans fatty acids. Now the same meal contains 19.2 grams.
This war began in the mid 1980s and was launched by the American Soybean Association (ASA) whose agenda was to increase sales of soybean oil by eliminating competition from imported tropical oils. The media started warning the public about a newly discovered health threat - coconut oil. It was proclaimed that coconut oil was a saturated fat and would cause heart disease. In response to this anti-coconut oil campaign, movie theaters began cooking their popcorn in soybean oil. Food makers began using soybean oil and partially hydrogenated soybean oil (margarine) instead of the tropical oils they had used for years. Restaurants stopped using tropical oils in favor of soybean and other vegetables oils. The ASA set out to scare people away from using tropical oils. In 1986, the ASA sent a “Fat Fighter Kit” to soybean farmers encouraging them to write to government officials, food companies, etc. protesting the use of highly saturated tropical fats. The wives and families of some 400,000 soybean farmers were encouraged to lobby touting the health benefits of soybean oil. Misguided health groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPI) joined this lobby, issuing news releases referring to tropical oils as “artery-clogging fats.” By the early 1990s, the tropical oils market was only a fraction of what it once was. This had far-reaching economical effects on the producers of coconut oil as we shall see below.
In October 1988, Nebraska millionaire Phil Sokolof, a heart attack patient and founder of the National Heart Savers Association began running full-page newspaper advertisements accusing food companies of “poisoning America” by using saturated tropical oils. One ad showed a coconut “bomb” with a lighted wick and cautioned consumers that tropical oils threaten health.
Meanwhile, tropical oil exporters from Malaysia prepared a public relations campaign against what it called “vicious scare tactics” being used against its product. At stake was a $3 billion-a-year vegetable oil market in the United States. The tropical oil industry, with few allies and comparatively little financial means to retaliate, couldn’t match the combined efforts of the ASA, CSPI and others. Despite testimonials of well respected medical professionals and researchers, the media paid little attention. Major newspapers, radio and TV networks picked up the anti-saturated fat ads and developed alarming news stories. One article was titled “The Oil From Hell.” Those who knew the truth were ignored and criticized by the brainwashed media. The fictional message won out over scientific fact.
Even popular medical doctors like Andrew Weil said (in his newsletter) that “saturated fats, all saturated fats, promote heart disease and, therefore, should be avoided.” As a result, tropical oils nearly disappeared from our food supply.
The gradual re-emergence of coconut oil and other coconut products in the early 2000s came about after Dr. Bruce Fife began writing the scientific truth about coconut oil. His first book, Saturated Fat May Save Your Life, appeared in 1998. To date, Dr. Fife has written six books on coconut oil plus other books on coconut products such as coconut flour and coconut water. His books are easy to read and very well referenced, making it obvious for the uninformed reader to quickly conclude that coconut oil is indeed the healthiest oil you can eat.
How the Coconut Oil Books by Dr. Bruce Fife Revived the Coconut Oil Industry
Here is what Dr. Fife told me when I asked him about the re-emergence of coconut oil on the market. This is the story of how one dedicated man revealed the truth about coconut oil and about the profound effects this had on the coconut oil producing tropical countries. In his own words:
I became interested in coconut oil about 13 years ago. At this time a colleague told me that coconut oil did not cause heart disease and that it was one of the “good” oils. At this time, I was brainwashed like everyone else believing that all saturated fats, including coconut oil, were dietary monsters. She cited a few studies that showed coconut oil had some medicinal value. I was so intrigued that I began looking up information on coconut oil to either confirm her statement or to reconfirm my beliefs. Since everyone seemed to “know” that coconut oil caused heart disease, I thought it would be easy to find magazine articles discussing the topic. But I couldn’t find any. At the time, there weren’t any articles on coconut oil. I did find at lot of articles of fats, oils, and nutrition and the only thing they said was “Coconut oil is a saturated fat and causes heart disease.” I read this statement in almost every source I found. But none of these sources ever backed up that statement with any facts, figures, or citations to studies.
I realized that if I was going to find the truth about coconut oil, I wasn’t going to get it from magazine articles or books, because it was apparent that none of these authors know anything about it. The only way I was going to learn the truth was to go to the medical research and see what researchers had to say. I looked up everything I could find on coconut oil, as well as many on saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and related topics. I read hundreds of research articles. What I found was a revelation. I learned that coconut oil was an incredible food with many health benefits. I also learned that it does not promote heart disease but fights against it. I also learned that saturated fat is not the evil villain it has been made out to be and that polyunsaturated fat and hydrogenated vegetable oils were actually the real troublemakers. This went against everything I had previously believed. After analyzing all these medical studies my beliefs on fats and oils was completed changed.
I was so excited about what I had discovered that I wrote a book to tell others what I learned. The title of the book was Saturated Fat May Save Your Life! The book was published in 1998 and in it I devoted an entire chapter to the health benefits of coconut oil. This was the first book ever published, to my knowledge that revealed the true character of coconut oil. The book Know Your Fats by Mary Enig, PhD came out in 2000 and it too contained some positive information about coconut oil. By this time, Robert Atkins, MD had been promoting the low carb diet for several years and insisted that saturated fats weren’t so bad after all, but he said nothing about coconut oil.
In 2000 I published another book titled The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil (this book is now titled The Coconut Oil Miracle).This was the first book published that was devoted entirely on the health and nutritional aspects of coconut oil. Before I published the book I gave a copy of the manuscript to Jon Kabara, PhD for review. Dr. Kabara was an emeritus professor of chemistry and pharmacology at Michigan State University and one of the most prominent researchers on fats and oils. He had been studying the health effects of coconut oil for nearly 50 years. He told me that my book was factual and accurate, but advised me not to publish it. The reason was that I would be wasting my time, no one would buy the book because they wouldn’t believe it. In addition, I would open myself up to a multitude of criticism and ridicule. He had tried for decades to tell people about the goodness of coconut oil but was criticized. So he spoke from experience and wanted to spare me the pain. I ignored his warning and published the book anyway.
At the time of publication it was nearly impossible to find coconut oil in local stores. If you were lucky, you might find it sold as body lotion, but not as a food. I looked everywhere for sources of coconut oil. I was able to find only one reliable source that was being sold for food, and it was refined coconut oil, not virgin coconut oil that is being sold today. Because coconut oil was so hard to find, I included the contact information in the book.
When the book was first published I faced a lot of resistance. Even though I sent out many review copies, the media completely ignored it so I couldn’t get any reviews or publicity. People didn’t believe coconut oil could be healthy. Sales were very slow. However, if I could get someone to read the book, I gained a convert and they often told their friends about the book. So by word of mouth, more than anything else, the book slowly began to sell.
In 2001 a few other companies started selling coconut oil, mostly over the Internet. They loved my book and sold it along with the oil. The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation and the newly formed Weston A Price Foundation spoke positively of coconut oil in their newsletters. Health food stores slowly began to stock coconut oil on their shelves.
By 2003 I had received some minor reviews in health publications and sales of the book were steadily increasing. I came out with a second book on coconut oil title Eat Fat, Look Thin. I discuss briefly the weight loss aspects of coconut oil in my previous book. Many people wrote to me to tell me how successful they were at losing excess weight using coconut oil, so I decided to write an entire book on the topic. People also contacted me and asked how they could incorporate coconut oil into their everyday diets. This led me to write a third book on coconut titled Coconut Lover’s Cookbook in 2004.
The big breakthrough came when I submitted the book to the editors of Woman’s World magazine in 2003. They have a readership of several million. They published an article on coconut oil that had an enormous impact. That single article created an instant demand for coconut throughout the country. All coconut oil suppliers and distributes sold out in a matter of weeks. Coconut oil producers overseas were backlogged for months to fill orders. Those who never sold coconut oil before began to stock it. Coconut oil has been selling well ever since. Today every health food store in the US and Canada sells 2, 3, 4 or more different brands of coconut oil. Even mainstream stores like Safeway and Wal-Mart carry it. The spark of interest from the Woman’s World article led to numerous other articles in print and on the Internet.
To date, I have written six books on coconut. The Coconut Oil Miracle is now in its 4th edition with about 140,000 copies in print. Seeing the increased interest in coconut oil several other authors began writing books on coconut as well. Mary Enig’s book Eat Fat, Lose Fat was published in 2005.
Since 2003, as the guest of governments, industries, and organizations I’ve been traveling around the world lecturing on the merits of coconut oil. My coconut books are published in various languages in Europe, Asia, Australia, Latin America, and elsewhere. My Coconut Research Center website, www.coconutresearchcenter.orgis the primary source of information on the Internet about the nutritional and health aspects of coconut and related products.
The Fall and Rise of the Coconut Oil Industry
Have you wondered what happened to the coconut oil industry as a direct result of the soybean tropical oils war? Again, here is Dr. Fife’s story in his own words.
The impact it has had in third world countries has been nothing short of phenomenal. Let me tell you a little more.
When the soybean industry began its attack on the tropical oils in the mid-1980s, coconut oil sales plummeted. Not only the oil, but all coconut products suffered. Food manufactures began taking the oil and coconut meat out of their products. The market for coconut oil and other coconut products worldwide dried up. Consequently, the coconut industry went into a deep recession. Factories closed down, coconut farms were abandoned, the trucking and shipping industry was adversely affected, literally millions of people found themselves out of work and unable to find employment. In the island countries of the South Pacific, coconut production contributes to as much as 80% of their economy. So when coconut sales fell, these countries were thrown into an economic depression. In the Philippines, one-third of the population depends on coconut for their livelihoods. That amounts to about 25 million people. The majority of these people barely made a living as it was, now with the drop in demand for coconut oil and other coconut products the majority were thrust into complete poverty. Many people who could not find work and could not feed or clothe their families became angry. Their governments were too poor to give much help. This led them to take up arms and rebel against the government and many coups and insurrections occurred as a consequence.
This is the way it remained until my books on coconut hit the market. The books created renewed interest and demand for coconut products. With the rising demand for coconut, factors went back into full production, farmers started harvesting their coconuts, trucking of coconuts got back into full swing. People were going back to work and earning an income and pulling themselves out of poverty. The insurgents hiding in the jungles and on mountain tops laid down their guns and came out to work in the fields and factories. They could finally afford to feed their families. The economy of dozens of countries benefited and so did the political environment.
When I went to the Philippines for the first time in 2004 I was treated like a celebrity and everybody seemed to know who I was. I met hundreds of people all thanking me for what I had done for the coconut industry in their country. I autographed copies of my book at an international food trade show and spent several hours signing books. The line to get an autograph was so long that people were going to my wife and having her sign her name in the books because they couldn’t get my signature. It was unreal. I came back the following year and it was the same. But this time I was also invited to the presidential palace and met with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who thanked me for the work I was doing with coconuts and the benefit it was doing to her country. I’ve traveled to Jamaica, Fiji, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Mexico, and even to the Middle East and Europe to share my knowledge about coconuts and speak to very appreciative crowds. I’m still amazed at how a single book has impacted so many lives around the world. For this reason, I continue to research and promote coconut. Not only is coconut improving our health, but it is improving the economy of many countries and helping to bring stability to governments.
In many of these poor areas the people can’t afford to buy medicines. So people do without. However, with the newfound knowledge of coconut oil’s healing properties people can use it to treat various illnesses without the expense or danger of using drugs. Coconut oil and other coconut products can do so much that drugs aren’t necessary in most cases. And this still isn’t the whole story of how coconut oil is being of benefit. I constantly get people sending me testimonials of how they use coconut oil or some other coconut product to cure chronic illnesses or better their health and lives in some way. The reason why coconut oil is still popular and gaining in popularity is because it WORKS! If it didn’t it would have died out long ago like any other fad.
By the way, Lita, I’m discovering new things about coconut oil all the time. Although I’ve been aware of the benefit of coconut oil on neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and autism, I now have solid scientific evidence which is very exciting. I’m thinking of writing a new book on the topic. But that will be some time from now because I’m just finishing one new book right now and have scheduled another book that I’ve been working on for the past three years. I actually work on about three books at a time. I have more ideas for books than I have time to research and write them.
Sorry to be so long winded, but I do get excited speaking about coconut.”