Recently a Harvard professor claimed that coconut oil is ‘PURE POISON’! Dr Karin Michels gave a speech to the University of Freiburg in Germany and stated firmly that coconut oil is 'one of the worst foods you can eat and is even more unhealthy than lard'.
With the help of wellness guru’s hailing coconut oil as a 'superfood', it has quickly become popular within the UK and can now be found in most supermarkets. Advocates have claimed that coconut oil can ‘boost metabolism’, ‘make your skin glow’, ‘boost immunity’ and can even be ‘beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease’.
Interestingly coconut oil comes with as much as 86% saturated fat whilst butter consists of only 52%. According to the British Heart Foundation diets high in saturated fat are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and the UK department of health advises we consume only small amounts of coconut oil because of its saturated fat content. 1
But if coconut oil is pure poison does this mean we need to stop slathering it onto everything we eat and go cold turkey?
These sweeping statements can be very unhelpful and add to the public’s confusion around nutrition. In reality there is absolutely nothing wrong with consuming coconut oil in moderate amounts alongside a healthy diet.
Unlike consuming "actual poison", coconut oil is not going to cause you to drop dead! Claiming that any one food is a poison can be dangerous as it instils fear around food. It’s important to remember that no one food is inherently all ‘good’ or all ‘bad’.
Whilst coconut oil should not be feared, it also should not to be hailed as a ‘superfood’, which can cure all and be consumed to excess. We have to remember that coconut oil is almost all saturated fat and if consumed alongside a diet high in saturated fats, you may be consuming well over the government recommended 20g per day women & 30g per day men. Trends such as bulletproof coffee, adding coconut oil to smoothies or eating it off the spoon is completely unnecessary.
With all the coconut hype that has taken precedence over the years, it’s often forgotten that unsaturated fats such as olive oil have substantial research behind them in terms of health benefits. We know that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can be an effective way to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Remember to mix up your cooking oils and use an oil which suits the dish best.
At the end of the day, coconut oil is neither a superfood nor a poison. Using these terms can lead to extremes in diet. Our focus should shift to a whole-diet approach rather than a black and white approach to singular ingredients. Small amounts of coconut oil or butter are absolutely fine to incorporate into a healthy and balanced diet.
1. NHS Choices (2015) "Is saturated fat bad for me?"
Lily Soutter, BSc (hons) Food & Human Nutrition, Dip ION www.lilysoutternutrition.com
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