Finally, is coconut oil good or bad?

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A Harvard Professor called coconut oil a pure poison and stirred the internet. She has redacted her statement now. So, is coconut oil good or bad?

If you visit my house, you will find my granny applying coconut oil on her long, jet black hair (she is 91!). I find it a tad irritating because it gets on everything around her! And also, because I have more grey hair than her, but that would be digressing! I always believed that coconut oil has its place in the whole scheme of things until Harvard Professor Dr Karin Michels called it pure poison. So is coconut oil good or bad? As a doctor, I decided to investigate, and here is what I found. 

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In Asia, we often use virgin coconut oil to massage our little ones as much as we use it in our cooking.

Coconut: The Swiss Knife of Palm Trees!

Living in Asia, we use coconut oil in our cooking as well as topically – on our skin and hair as well as our little ones’ skin and hair.

It is said that every part of the coconut tree has its use. The water is sweet, the flesh gives you oil, the leaves are useful for building huts, you get coir from the plant. The trunk can be used for making boats, and palm sugar can be obtained from the flowers, giving it the moniker “Kalpavriksha” – Sanskrit for the tree of life. 

So, it is surprising to see a Harvard professor calling it pure poison in a YouTube video that went viral (1.3 million views!) after her speech in Germany last month.

After an uproar on the internet, she has apologised to the public stating that her choice of words was unfortunate. She merely wanted to point out that as a saturated fat, it should be used sparingly. 

Well, when a professor of Epidemiology (the science of finding out what causes a disease and how to prevent it) at one of the best institutes in the world states that coconut oil is not that good for you, it makes you think. 

However, she does not have a hidden agenda behind it. She is merely stating the findings of research published by the health authorities of almost every country!

So, Is Coconut Oil Good or Bad?

Fats are an important part of our nutritional requirements. However, the wrong type and quantity of fats can cause many health problems, like cardiovascular diseases. 

According to a presidential advisory by the American Heart Association, replacing saturated fats (like butter) with unsaturated fats (like vegetable oil) can have the same effects on the lipid profile of a person as taking a treatment for lipid-lowering medicines (statins). 

Coconut oil has 87% saturated fats. Olive oil, or vegetable oil, on the other hand, has only 14% saturated fats. So, even though it might enhance the taste of food, coconut oil can cause much more damage to your heart than vegetable oils.

It does have certain advantages though. As with any other type of fat which comes from plants, it has the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K.

It also has medium-chain fatty acids in addition to saturated fats, especially lauric acid. Medium chain fatty acids are thought to be less fattening. However, the percentage of saturated fats outweigh the benefits if used as the major source of fats. 

So What Should You Do?

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According to a presidential advisory by the American Heart Association, replacing saturated fats (like butter) with unsaturated fats (like vegetable oil) can have the same effects on the lipid profile of a person as taking a treatment for lipid-lowering medicines (statins). 

Coconut oil has 87% saturated fats. Olive oil, or vegetable oil, on the other hand, has only 14% saturated fats. So, even though it might enhance the taste of food, coconut oil can cause much more damage to your heart than vegetable oils.

It does have certain advantages though. As with any other type of fat which comes from plants, it has the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K.

It also has medium-chain fatty acids in addition to saturated fats, especially lauric acid. Medium chain fatty acids are thought to be less fattening. However, the percentage of saturated fats outweigh the benefits if used as the major source of fats. 

So What Should You Do?

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Use foods with “good” fats – the polyunsaturated fatty acids in your diet.

We face a huge dilemma. Fats are important, but they can cause problems. So, instead of asking “Is coconut oil good or bad?” we should choose the right kind and right quantity of fats. 

  1. Use the right oils. Polyunsaturated fats are the safest, so use oils like vegetable oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, soyabean oil, or safflower oil for cooking. Measure what you use. Just because it is better does not mean it is good in huge quantities!
  2. Use saturated fats sparingly. You cannot oil your toast! However, you can choose not to eat buttered toast every day and instead eat something healthier. Similarly, a few recipes demand coconut oils, so use it! It is not “poison” in the literal sense. However, reserve these delicacies for special occasions. 
  3. Choose the right food. Avocados have good fats, so do sunflower seeds. So, balance your fat requirements by consuming such foods rather than butter, lard, or bacon! Plan your meals using the Singapore Health Promotion Board’s My Healthy Plate.

Remember, even though the professor has apologised, it does not make coconut oil a superfood in any sense. It is a tasty ingredient.

And like cream, even though it tastes amazing, you should not add it to everything. So be sensible and eat right. Apply it safely on your skin though. There is no harm in that! Just don’t go on adding it to anything and everything to make it “healthy”!

 

Sources:

  1. American Heart Association
  2. Health Promotion Board, Singapore
  3. CNN

Also read: Can coconut oil help with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

Use foods with “good” fats – the polyunsaturated fatty acids in your diet.

We face a huge dilemma. Fats are important, but they can cause problems. So, instead of asking “Is coconut oil good or bad?” we should choose the right kind and right quantity of fats. 

  1. Use the right oils. Polyunsaturated fats are the safest, so use oils like vegetable oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, soyabean oil, or safflower oil for cooking. Measure what you use. Just because it is better does not mean it is good in huge quantities!
  2. Use saturated fats sparingly. You cannot oil your toast! However, you can choose not to eat buttered toast every day and instead eat something healthier. Similarly, a few recipes demand coconut oils, so use it! It is not “poison” in the literal sense. However, reserve these delicacies for special occasions. 
  3. Choose the right food. Avocados have good fats, so do sunflower seeds. So, balance your fat requirements by consuming such foods rather than butter, lard, or bacon! Plan your meals using the Singapore Health Promotion Board’s My Healthy Plate.

Remember, even though the professor has apologised, it does not make coconut oil a superfood in any sense. It is a tasty ingredient.

And like cream, even though it tastes amazing, you should not add it to everything. So be sensible and eat right. Apply it safely on your skin though. There is no harm in that! Just don’t go on adding it to anything and everything to make it “healthy”!

 

Sources:

  1. American Heart Association
  2. Health Promotion Board, Singapore
  3. CNN

Also read: Can coconut oil help with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?