Is coconut oil really pure poison?

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Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A superfood saviour that once commanded sales up to £16.4m in the UK, reduced to “pure poison” in a viral video by a Harvard professor. Is this the death of coconut oil? Or simply a reminder that there’s no such thing as a superfood? DOSE is joined by London based registered nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr who shares her thoughts on the matter…

Is coconut oil really pure poison?

Naming and shaming any one food as “dangerous” or “bad” only fuels fear around food. We should all, from health professionals to politicians, influencers and the general public, attempt to remove the stigmas that are associated with certain foods. No one food is inherently entirely “good” or “bad” for us.

We should be conscious that coconut oil is roughly 90% saturated fat, and one tablespoon equates to the recommended daily intake of saturated fat for a woman – 20g/120 calories. Therefore, if we are consuming coconut oil daily, alongside a diet that has a high or even moderate intake of saturated fats, then we could be at risk of over consuming saturated fats.

Why are saturated fats bad?

Saturated fats have been linked to high cholesterol levels and consequently cardiovascular disease. However, it is important to note that although the saturated fat from coconut oil does raise LDL cholesterol (the bad type of cholesterol) it also raises HDL cholesterol (the good type). This may be thanks to the lauric acid found in coconut oil.

Is there anything good about coconut oil?

What coconut oil does provide us with is a dairy free alternative to butter needed in cooking. Instead of going for margarines or spreads that are filled with trans fats and additives, coconut oil is relatively additive free (if you are buying the good stuff!).

The evidence on the benefits of coconut oil in human diets is still relatively inconclusive. Many of the studies have used adapted forms of coconut oil, using mainly multi chain triglyceride samples that are based on coconut oil. This is unlike the vast array of studies out there that show the benefits of consuming olive oil, omega 3 fats and other plant oils.

It is always a good idea to diversify and mix it up when it comes to textures, flavours and ingredients and the same goes with fats. If you enjoy the flavour of coconut oil, use it in moderation and benefit from its relatively high smoke point (meaning it is safe to use for cooking unlike some oils such as flax seed oil which is best left unheated).

But it’s not the superhero ingredient we thought it was?

Coconut oil is safe to be consumed, unlike poison, however it is not a miracle potion that should be drunken by the litre or slathered all over our food! The key with coconut oil is to utilise it in moderation and know that unlike other fats such as olive oil, it does contribute to an increase in total cholesterol, and those who are at risk of high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease should be conscious of their intake.

Clarissa Lenherr is a Registered Nutritional Therapist (BA HONS, DIP CNM, mBANT) practicing in London

Main image: Shuttershock

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