I’ve been hearing about coconut oil around the traps for a while and it’s increasingly being promoted as an amazing food packed with nutrition and health benefits. Now in the Dietetics world coconut oil has been talked about in the same lines as butter, lard and ghee: saturated fats that increase your cholesterol and therefore your risk of heart disease.
I’ve been working on this post in my head for a very long time because I wanted to do my research and I wanted to get this right.
Now let me say first that I’m not against coconut oil or saturated fats as such, I’m happy for everything in moderation. I use butter in cooking, I have been known to save pork fat from a roast and use it to cook things and I’m planning on buying some coconut oil to try in some baking. But when marketing campaigns of so-called “health” companies tout something as a health food above all others that is not exactly what it say it is, I’m ready to pull out the dietitian card.
So what sparked this post was an awesome post by a Dietitian blogger I love called the Sceptical Nutritionist. He presents some very good, and might I say evidence based arguments. See it here. It’s fairly technical and even I got a bit lost in some spots so I thought I’d do some of my own research and also to write a simplified version.
So my biggest annoyance with coconut oil supporters is saying that is doesn’t affect cholesterol and therefore doesn’t increase your risk of heart disease. There are arguments about chain numbers and whether lauric acid (the main fat in coconut oil) is classed as saturated fat. Regardless of this fact, when studied in a large cohort of women (for non-researchers out there, the more people in a cohort, the more solid the evidence is) lauric acid was shown to increase heart disease risk (the study links are in the Sceptical Nutritionist’s article). It was also shown to increase heart disease risk in another study and when they looked at a country with a high intake of coconut oil, the numbers of heart disease sufferers is considered high. And I do know that there can be issues with studies and the way they conduct them, so I’m not saying this is the be all and end all. However for someone with a family history of heart disease, I won’t be changing to this as my main fat source.
Other claims about coconut oil is that it will increase HDL which is good cholesterol in the body (remember it as happy cholesterol HDL, lousy cholesterol LDL). And this indeed was shown to be true in studies. However with new evidence showing that increased Happy Cholesterol combined with saturated fat (like lauric acid in coconut oil) decreases the functional properties of the HDL (i.e. the good cholesterol is not doing the good stuff it normally does). Again another reason why I will stick to unsaturated forms of fat for my main fat source that are PROVEN to be protective of your heart and not increase bad cholesterol.
I’ve also heard people use coconut oil for weight loss too, and I won’t argue that it’s not effective but you might want to know why it works. Eating high amounts of fat in a meal delays gastric emptying. Basically it means it sits in your stomach and doesn’t move for a long while. It’s the same reason that after a fatty Maccas or Hungry’s meal you feel full, sick and rubbish. Coconut oil works for weight loss because if you take your recommended 2 tablespoons before eating a meal it sits in the bottom of your stomach and makes you feel shitty so you are less likely to eat. It also can give you the runs too which is GREAT (insert sarcasm here) for weight loss. Given what I have read above, I say but at what cost? Hey here’s an amazing weight loss trick for you, do the same with lard and rub your face up against someone with gastro. It’s the same process and ultimately the same effect. Lard and gastro for weight loss, I think I’m onto something here…
But look in all seriousness here’s my final standpoint:
If your head is not in prevent heart disease mode and you eat butter or lard as your main source of fat then by all means, coconut oil is going to be the same if not better due to the possible health benefits (where butter and lard have none). However if you are already eating unsaturated fats as your main source, I would stick with that because we KNOW it’s healthier and it’s promotion doesn’t seem to be driven as much by the old marketing machine.
A bit of coconut oil here and there in your diet is not going to kill you, and the same goes for butter and lard. I’m all for everything in moderation as I’m sure you have gathered. And I’m pretty sure I’m more likely to rub coconut oil on my body and not butter, so I’m not denying its use for beauty reasons either. I just had to put my two cents worth in to say that coconut oil may not be the absolute saint the health food companies say it is J