The miracle oil we have all been revering since childhood, which is considered the best for cooking purposes and the most reliable for healthy hair and skin, was recently dubbed as ‘pure poison’, by a Harvard professor. While there is very little evidence to support this claim, the hullabaloo surrounding coconut oil’s credibility evokes one to dissociate facts from myths.
While many experts dismiss the ‘poison’ claim as “unscientific nonsense”, it is important to understand the benefits as well as limits of coconut oil.
Everything you Should Know About Coconut oil
Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat. This high percentage could mean bad news for heart health since saturated fat tends to raise LDL cholesterol, which is known for increasing the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular issues. However, according to experts, when oils and saturated fats are consumed in moderation, which is a maximum of about 2 tablespoons or 30ml a day, while ensuring that activity levels are high enough to burn off the calories, it won’t impact one’s LDL levels.
|Nutritional value per 100 g|
|ENERGY||3,730 kJ (890 kcal)|
|Vitamin E||20%3 mg|
|Vitamin K||1%0.6 μg|
When compared with unsaturated oils, coconut oil does raise overall HDL (good) as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. However, in the spectrum of types of fat, coconut oil lies somewhere in the middle where it is probably better than butter but not as good as extra virgin olive oil. It should ultimately, be treated like any other fat or oil considering some experts caution that coconut oil has more saturated fat and raises LDL cholesterol as much as or more than most animal fats. Therefore, experts advice incorporating coconut oil in a limited amount in one’s diet and recommend unsaturated plant and vegetable oils like olive, canola or even soybean, for daily use.
Evidence-based benefits of coconut oil
Putting aside the high saturated fat content talk, let’s look at why it’s been a cult favorite for years. Starting with how coconut oil contains most importantly among other things, healthy fatty acids which when converted into ketones is believed to have quite powerful benefits for the brain and as treatment for Alzheimer disease, epilepsy, dementia and other conditions, although there is more scope for research regarding the same . Besides this, coconut oil is also believed to have antimicrobial effects, and comprises elements such as MCTs which can encourage fat burning and helps in reducing hunger.
So, is coconut oil safe to use?
Yes! As long as you don’t overdo it and, use it in moderation, as goes for any food item for that matter. Coconut oil has been a popular daily-use ingredient especially in South Asian and other tropical and sub-tropical countries, since time immemorial. Ever since it gained popularity in the Western countries, it’s been one of the most studied food ingredients, which resulted in an increase in inconclusive research literature, which paved the way for its repeated bashing especially by Western institutions. The contradictions in these studies could easily be a result of different cultures, diets, and habits. Populations from tropical countries like India, Sri Lanka, etc., widely consume coconut oil in ample amounts. However, these traditional diets also include a variety of rich food groups like fish, fruits, and vegetables. This is a striking contrast to the typical American diet, thereby rendering this comparison invalid.
Since there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove its acclaimed benefits or even dangers, the effect of coconut oil on health remains unclear with an abundance of contradictory opinions. It’s neither a superfood nor a poison. Time and more research will allow more clarity into this controversy. Keeping this information in mind, Caveat emptor! as you honestly would with any food item. The best way to stay above the nonsensical hullabaloo while ensuring good health, in the words of Oscar Wilde- “Everything in moderation, including moderation”.