Coconut oil – pure poison?

September 15, 2018 7:42 am Published by Leave your thoughts

We sell huge amounts of coconut oil at Naturally Good Food – and thus far, we haven’t put up any hazardous product signs around the building. But some people think we possibly should. Some people think that coconut oil is, in fact, pure poison….

Coconut oil - is it really pure poison?

Really?

You’ve probably heard all about it. Karin Michels, an epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan school of public health, gave a lecture at the University of Freiburg this summer. Entitled ‘Coconut oil and other nutritional errors’, her lecture warned in no uncertain terms against coconut oil. ‘It’s one of the worst things you can eat’, she said.

Do all Freiburg University lectures hit the headlines? Perhaps not. But this one did – and that’s because coconut oil is big business and big news in the health food world. Celebrities, online food bloggers, vegan chefs, clean-eating enthusiasts and many others buy coconut oil by the bucketload. They love it for its taste, its texture, its organic nature, and its versatility – as well as its reputed health benefits.

Should they be worried?

Coconut oil: are you nuts to eat it?

Coconut oil is extracted from the ‘meat’ or flesh of the fruit. As Michels points out, it contains a high level of saturated fat: about 82%, according to the American Heart Association (others put the proportion higher, at around 86%). That’s more than is found in butter, lard or dripping. Just one tablespoon of coconut oil contains around 120 calories.

Saturated fats are generally considered to be bad news. They raise levels of low-density lipoproteins in the blood – also known as LDLs, LDL cholesterol or ‘bad cholesterol’. Higher levels of LDL cholesterol lead, research shows, to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, as it builds up into plaque inside our arteries. Victoria Taylor, a senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, says:

‘We know that diets high in saturated fat are associated with increased non-HDL cholesterol in the blood, and high cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke.’

Clear and simple?

So should we all just stop eating it? It’s not quite that simple. Michels’ assertion sparked heated arguments between nutritionists online and in real life. For every piece of research indicating that coconut oil is bad for you, it seems that there’s another suggesting that it’s highly beneficial. For every clean-eating blogger advocating taking it by the spoonful, there’s a nutritionist arguing the contrary. The India Horticulture Commissioner, Dr B N Srinivasa Murthy, flung a number of evidence-based studies right back at Michels, in a letter to Harvard asking for the withdrawal of her points.

Some of its supporters point out that coconut oil, thanks to its high levels of a fatty acid called lauric acid, raises the proportion of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs – or ‘good cholesterol’) in the blood. HDLs carry other types of cholesterol back to our liver, which then disposes of them. Others, however, argue that unsaturated fats do exactly the same and lower levels of LDL simultaneously.

Some people assert that native peoples who eat a lot of coconut oil are particularly healthy. Opponents of coconut oil dismiss this, stating that these peoples’ good health depends on a number of other factors.

The most moderate voices point out that even the best scientific research has so far failed to come up with all the answers. Quite simply, we don’t yet know exactly what the consequences of raised HDL or LDL are – or quite how they interact with other factors. We don’t know precisely how various saturated fats affect our bodies, or which ones bring greater benefits than others.

It’s not poison

But one thing’s for sure – coconut oil is not actually poison. Michels excepted, there’s general agreement that there’s no harm in including it in your diet in moderation.

‘As it is high in saturated fats [it] should only be included in small amounts and as part of a healthy balanced diet,” says the British Nutrition Foundation.

So if you’re a vegan who needs a good non-dairy baking fat, or a fan of its coconutty taste, or a devotee of the oil’s high smoke point (unarguably great for stir-fries), then keep on going – but don’t go crazy.

And if you simply want to use the oil as a fantastic and fragrant moisturiser for your hair, body or nails, or as a ‘carrier’ in various homemade remedies and toiletries, then well, knock yourself out.

But if you’re buying coconut oil, make sure you’re buying the very best. The extra-virgin kind retains some of the antioxidants found in the coconut flesh and thus brings you the greatest benefits. At Naturally Good Food we sell cold-pressed, unrefined, raw, extra-virgin, organic coconut oil. We make sure it’s harvested in a cruelty-free manner, by people – not monkeys – and that it’s Fairtrade where possible. It looks beautiful, smells divine and melts like snow on the skin and in the cooking pot. It’s hard, in all honesty, to see this natural product as poison.

Other oils

If you are concerned that you’re over-using coconut oil though, then perhaps it’s time to branch out a little. Alternatives recommended by leading nutritional bodies are of the unsaturated kind: olive oils, rapeseed (canola) oil and other vegetable oils. You’ll be pleased to know that Naturally Good Food sells a wide selection of all of these, and all of the very highest quality. Our oils are cold-pressed and unrefined, retaining the highest possible level of nutrients and taste.

And while the experts battle it out amongst themselves, here at Naturally Good Food we’ll continue quietly bringing you the very best of all kinds of organic, natural food  – all in perfect moderation.

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This post was written by Yzanne

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