Lately everyone seems to be going nuts for coconuts! Oil, water, flour – if it’s possible to make a coconut version of something, they’ve done it. Sales of coconut oil have gone through the roof as the latest coconut craze sweeps the world. However, there’s still no consensus on whether the stuff is actually good for you or not. On one side of the fence there’s the people preaching about all the health benefits of coconut oil while on the other side there’s nutritionists and dietitians warning of its dangers. In fact, the Heart Foundation and the Dietitian’s Association of Australia recommend “avoiding coconut oil due to its high saturated fat content”. Who do we believe? The people who use the product and assure its safe use over thousands of years or the people who study the science of food?
As a nutrition student, I have to say it’s easy to be biased and follow the advice of the dietitians. According to them, saturated fat in high amounts can lead to an increase in bad cholesterol, a decrease in good cholesterol, and consequently more potential for heart disease and stroke. Since coconut oil is made up of mostly saturated fat (92%), it is understandable that nutritionists and dietitians worldwide are anti-coconut oil and believe it is detrimental to our health. However, it’s possible that everything we have learnt in Dietetics is wrong. The “facts” of nutrition are always in constant flux due to evolving research so it can be hard to figure out what to believe. I decided to do a quick pros and cons list on what I know to be true.
- Extra virgin coconut oil is unrefined, so it does not undergo the heating processes that can convert the saturated fats to their super nasty alter ego, trans fat (this is the type of fat which is correlated with heart disease and is found mostly in processed foods).
- It has a high smoke point so it is good for use in cooking.
- It has a pleasant taste that is desirable for some recipes.
- Coconut oil is made up of 92% saturated fat. Saturated fat is correlated with an increase in LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Cheaper coconut oils may be refined and therefore trans fats may be produced in the process.
- The unrefined oils are expensive. On average, coconut oil sells for $2.32 per 100ml. Other oils sell, on average, for $0.66 cents or less per 100ml [based on results from BananaBlue.com]. Why the crazy price? I believe the retail price of products are dependent on their demand, and demand is greater for products with the greatest hype. Today it’s coconut oil, a year ago it was Acai berries, remember? When retailers hit on a trend, they know they can sell the product for a trillion dollars and get away with it. There are other healthy oils, like olive oil, which are cheaper and have proven health benefits also.
I’m sure there are probably a few more points I could add but at the end of the day, it comes back to this – fat makes you fat. No matter what type of fat you eat, if you eat too much of it, you will gain weight. We know obesity is one of the leading risk factors for a whole range of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. On top of that, over-consumption of fat can raise your cholesterol levels and can clog your arteries. The key is moderation. In my opinion, if you are going to use coconut oil, use it sparingly, and try to choose extra virgin as it is less processed. As an addition to a healthy meal or overall diet, I see no problem with coconut oil. But, if you intend to consume it in larger amounts, like any type of fat, it can lead to weight gain and possibly increase cholesterol levels. Do I use coconut oil? No. But I choose to avoid it simply because I do not eat a clean diet 100% of the time and there’s no reason for me to add to the saturated fat levels in my diet by choosing a high fat oil. On top of that, it’s kind of insanely priced and there are plenty of other healthy oil options I can choose from that fit into my budget.
Use what works for you! Any type of fat should be consumed in moderation. Those who are about to embark on a diet should consult their doctor or a nutritionist/dietitian who will be able to discuss what foods are appropriate for you 🙂