Views / Citizen Scientist

Guys, there's no need to go cuckoo for coconut oil

Dietarily speaking, this celebrated superfood is just that— food! It doesn't have magic powers.

Coconut oil is associated with every health benefit under the sun.

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Coconut oil is associated with every health benefit under the sun.

Is coconut oil bad for you or good for you? - Peter, Toronto    
 
I’m trying to get away from calling foods (with the exception of a few bona fide baddies, like trans fats), “good for you” or “bad for you.” Eating healthy is about the overall diet, not banning or valourizing certain foods.

And coconut oil certainly has been valourized. You can find every health claim under the sun associated with this supposed superfood, and very few are well-supported by scientific evidence.

What we do know is that coconut oil is almost entirely saturated fat.

Well-designed experiments show that consuming it tends to raise levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, though not by quite as much as animal fats such as butter do.

High LDL levels are associated with heart disease. The American Heart Association recently released a paper warning against eating coconut oil for health and suggesting olive oil as a better alternative for everyday cooking.   

There’s a belief among coconut-oil cultists (don’t throw coconuts at my head, guys!) that their favourite oil is not like other saturated fats.

They point to the specific fats it contains, called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which aren’t associated with bad cholesterol and seem to help with weight loss.

But the major MCT in coconut oil, lauric acid, doesn’t actually behave like an MCT in the body. According to University of Manitoba food science professor Peter Jones, “You cannot extrapolate from MCT research out to what coconut oil does.”

Much is made of the low rates of heart disease among indigenous Pacific Islanders who follow a traditional diet with a large proportion of their calories and fat from coconut.

But what they eat is so far from obesity-causing Western fare: It’s fresh fish, fruit, tubers, coconut and virtually no sugar or processed foods.

Once again, it’s the overall diet that counts.   

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