Coconut oil: an artery-clogging poison or a superfood?
As promised, this week’s nutritional and health benefits are about one controversial food – coconut oil.
A couple of weeks ago I was making buckwheat pancakes for my dearest friends Thanos and Marta. For that recipe, I use coconut oil – an ingredient that was highly disapproved by my friends. So, I was curious to see what your opinion about coconut oil is. 58% of you believe that coconut oil is healthy and 42% that is unhealthy.
On one hand, you have the haters, like in that video that went viral, where a Harvard professor called it “pure poison” and on the other hand there are many articles claiming that coconut oil is a “superfood”.
Is coconut oil an artery-clogging poison or is it the perfect healthy cooking oil? Let’s see the facts.
The main reason that it is demonized is its high saturated fat content – approximately 90% whereas butter has 64% and lard 40%. A diet high in saturated fats is unhealthy because it raises the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels, which increases the risk of heart diseases.
However (!!!) coconut oil with its unique composition of fatty acids gives a boost to “good” cholesterol (HDL) and improve the composition of blood lipids.
Coconut oil contains a big proportion of Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs), which are linked with health benefits like reducing appetite, (which may lead to reduced body weight over the long term), supplying energy for the brain cells of Alzheimer's patients and relieving their symptoms, being less likely to be stored in the body as fat and more readily used as a source of energy.
Another reason why coconut oil has been deified is due to the fact that Pacific Islanders, who follow a diet high in coconut and coconut oil (more than 50% of their calorie intake), are super healthy. However, this could mainly be connected to their overall healthy eating habits (fish, seafood, fruits, and lack of processed food) and lifestyle and not necessarily to the high consumption of coconut and/or coconut oil per se.
Do you want my opinion?
I believe that the research done so far is short-term to examine how coconut oil affects cholesterol levels and therefore health diseases. For now, I would say use coconut oil sporadically. Coconut oil is fine to use in moderation, but it is far from the superfood that many claim to be. If you want to use it, make sure you choose organic, virgin coconut oil and not refined - the harsh process can destroy the essential fatty acids. I do not think that coconut oil is a “poison”, but I definitely do not believe that it is as healthful as olive oil, which consists of monounsaturated fat, anti-inflammatory antioxidants, and immune-boosting vitamin E.
Just remember that no food will make you healthy, just like no food will make you unhealthy – it is all about balance.