Why I do not use coconut oil

Don’t get me wrong, I love coconut. Love the flavour especially IN CURRIES AND DESSERTS but you won’t see me drizzling coconut oil on everything and ditching the greatness that is EVOO. Coconut is NOW SEEN AS A MIRACLE WORKER FROM being continuously promoted for great skin to improving cholesterol, boosting immunity and even aiding in weight loss. Are people going a bit too loco for coco impulsively? Slide1

Coconut oil can be produced either from the fruit of fresh mature coconuts or from dried coconut flesh, deeming it either virgin coconut oil or refined. Further processing of coconut oil can also produce partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which is used in some processed or commercially baked foods. The production of partially hydrogenated coconut oil can result in the formation of trans fats.

Coconut oil has one of the highest saturated fat profiles in comparison to other vegetable oils, which initiated a never-ending debate. A high intake of saturated fats increases your  blood cholesterol levels, specifically your LDL (bad-cholesterol) levels and in turn, increases your risk of heart disease. Trans fats also pose a risk to heart disease given their dual influence on both bad and good cholesterol. They raise LDL levels as well as reduce good HDL-cholesterol levels. Multiple associations such as the American Heart Association and the Australian Heart Foundation suggest that we limit our intake of saturated fats to less than 7%  of total calorie intake per day.

Now, coconut advocates argue that the type of saturated fat found in coconut oil, lauric acid, affects blood cholesterol levels differently and that benefits are underestimated. Lauric acid is a medium-chain length saturated fatty acid that can raise both “bad” and “good” cholesterol levels and advocates strongly believe in a positive HDL rise. Health professionals have counteracted such claims suggesting that lauric acid may promote the rise of non-functional HDL that has no effect on lowering the risk of heart disease referencing early studies  that have demonstrated how foods we consume can influence HDL quality. Furthermore, organisations promoting the miraculous benefits of coconut oil originated from coconut-producing countries such as India and the Philippines, creating this intense marketing push towards the use coconut oil in naturopathy and alternative practice.

So where do I stand?

As a dietitian, I have not come across any strong evidence supporting the perceived benefits of coconut oil in comparison to research demonstrating the positive effects of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil. Switching to coconut oil may not be the wisest step in pursuing a healthier lifestyle as that increases your intake of saturated fats, known culprits of heart disease and high blood cholesterol readings. Enjoying coconut produce such as coconut milk, coconut water and coconut oil can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. My top choice when it comes to oils then? EVOO – extra virgin olive oil.  EVOO has been the centre of research for many years, especially that is part of one of the healthiest diets out there: the Mediterranean diet. In terms of benefits, its fat composition and antioxidant content have been shown to protect against heart disease, high blood pressure and even potentially reducing the risk of strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. So, why not get excited about EVOO and the evidence behind its use?!

When reading an endless list of benefits of any “superfood” that sounds to good to be true, be skeptical and question the source. Unsubstantiated therapeutic claims are always made to create a marketing hype. Additionally, such claims can actually violate certain acts set by health authorities as demonstrated in a letter from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to false therapeutic claims made about coconut oil, amongst other products.

Finally, keep in mind that every perceived benefit of a new “superfood” needs to be looked at within the context of the whole diet. No sole food stands alone.

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