There has been a dearth of articles recently about whether coconut oil really is good for you instigated by a recent report from the American Heart Association (AHA) focusing on saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular disease. Studies conducted found that even a 5% reduction in saturated fat, replaced with polyunsaturated fat, led to a 25% lower risk of a heart attack. It must be noted that polyunsaturated oils include soybean and corn, which are both agricultural behemoths in the United States.
This may come as a surprise to the many consumers who have sworn by it since the advent of the clean and healthy eating movement. Coconut oil isn't anything new obviously, with many Asian and South East Asian (India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia) having used this versatile dry drupe (that's what it's scientifically called!) for everything from cooking and beauty treatments to building houses.
When the healthy eating revolution began in earnest, we were hit by a barrage of information on types of food we had either never heard about or had always been using without knowing their true potential. Suddenly, it was all chia seeds, quinoa, turmeric and spelt; and one of the biggest stories was about the incredible benefits of coconut oil including preventing heart disease and high blood pressure, improving immunity and aiding weight loss. This once humble oil used mainly in local kitchens and occasionally even vilified had become the poster child for wholesome eating the world over – a prime example of the ‘health halo effect’.
Marissa Parry, nutrition and fitness coach, had this to say when the report initially came out, “At the end of the day, coconut oil is still a fat and needs to be consumed in moderation. Although it’s saturated, it contains medium chain triglycerides, which are better than the long chain fats found in animal fat like lard and butter. You also have to take into consideration what your overall diet is like and be aware of how much you take.”
The AHA’s report stated that 82% of coconut oil is saturated fat, more than butter and lard. It went on to say that various studies had found that coconut oil increased LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or bad cholesterol. This information led to the general consensus that coconut oil just wasn’t all it was made out to be. With the natural and superfood industry now worth billions, it could be that this oil was caught up in the hype.
Health professionals are arguing both sides of the coin with some saying the general health of people living in the tropics using coconut as a main ingredient suffer lower rates of heart disease. It can then be argued that overall lifestyle, eating less meat, minimal dairy and being more active are the reasons why heart disease isn’t as prevalent here as in developed countries.
As Purely B’s resident naturopath, Amanda Teh, also mentions, “In my opinion, in terms of nutrition, it is all about balance. And if we break this down into numbers, it means that if you weigh 60kg and you’re on 2000 calories / day, your daily intake of fat is approximately 66g (based on 0.5g per pound of body weight). This roughly translates to 4.3 tablespoons of fat per day and this includes all the fat in your diet including what is derived from meat and dairy products. We can only metabolise a certain amount of fat and the rest is stored and can eventually lead to health problems. Consuming a tablespoon of coconut oil a day is fine as long as you adjust your diet by cutting down on other sources of fat and eat more fruit and vegetables.” She also reiterated the point that it’s all about consuming in moderation.”
And, so the question remains – is coconut oil all it’s made out to be? Here are five facts to give you a better idea:
- Coconut oil is made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are better that the long chain fats found in animal fat
- With the same heating point as olive oil, it’s suitable for cooking and salad dressing; and extra virgin coconut oil is healthier than any highly processed vegetable oils
- Look at your overall diet – if you take a tablespoon of coconut oil a day, balance it out with more vegetables, fruit and lean meat
- Approximately 50% of coconut oil is lauric acid, which can kill pathogens and may help with weight loss
- If you’re planning on cutting down your consumption, the oil can be used as a skin moisturiser, tame frizzy hair and basically smells of tropical islands, which is reason enough to use it!