Is coconut oil poison?
A doctor belonging to one of the leading institutes of the United States sparked a debate on this topic.
Karin Michels, ScD, Ph.D., is a professor at the Harvard TH Chan Scool of Public Health. He also works at the Institute for Prevention and tumor Epidemiology at the University of Freiburg in Germany as a director.
The professor made a declaration during a conference and his speech was quick enough to get viral. The backlash was pointed and fierce at different social media platforms.
The news quickly spread at twitter following a hashtag #coconutoilcontroversy and a lot of people started tweeting about the benefits of coconut oil. A major share of people also disparaged with the doctor for passing such a blanket statement.
The History of Coconut Oil
The strongest argument going in favor of coconut oil is its long history in Southeast Asia without any detrimental results. This is the reason why many people took offense when a Western doctor tried to impose her belief on the world. The argument caught more fire since the involved oil, the coconut oil, is present in the non-western countries for decades with potential uses.
Coconut oil has the position of a staple cooking ingredient in many countries like Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. In India, this oil is also famous for its skincare and hair regiments.
During the past few years, people belonging to the United States as well as other countries have come to embrace this oil. The use of this oil became so popular that it moved to the status of a “health-halo”.
This means that the health benefits of coconut oil were viewed as a cure for a list of illnesses.
So, is it a Superfood or a Real Poison?
Melissa Majumdar, an RD and a senior bariatric dietitian at Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery did not call it a poison. However, the dietitian did say that it certainly does not deserve to be called a superfood.
She further said how she does not like to label a food item as good or bad, let alone poison. However, coconut oil is, by no means, the saving grace that the world thinks it is.
Coconut oil is a derivate of the white flesh of the tropical fruit. In pressed form, the oil can last for six months without the risk of spoilage. This is because it has a low rate of oxidation, therefore, its rate of rancidity is not as high as it is for other oils.
Coconut oil is a rich source of saturated fats. Almost 80 percent of its composition has saturated fats in it. Red meat contains almost 50 percent of these saturated fats whereas 65 percent of the butter is made up of them.
Studies show how consuming too much amount of saturated fats can lead to an excess of these agents in the blood stream. Because saturated fat is bad for health, their high quantities can cause hypertension, coronary diseases, and other cardiovascular complications.
How did Coconut Oil Receive the Status of a Super Food?
As per a popular story, the buzz about the coconut oil first stemmed from a study published in 2003. This study focused on the health benefits and advantages of medium-chain triglycerides. The report mentioned that such types of fatty acids could help people enhance their metabolism.
Various influencers and food bloggers caught the wind of this report and started extrapolating this data on to the coconut oil. The reason for this was the richness of coconut oil with high quantities of medium-chain triglycerides present in it.
But as per Majumdar, people may not know the fact that medium-chain triglycerides only form 14 percent of coconut oil composition. The rest of the composition contains long-chain triglycerides, the ones causing heart diseases.
In addition to this, the author of this fatty acid study told that her study utilized a so-called designer oil. This oil contained 100 percent medium-chain triglycerides. The conclusion of this study was that a person requires 15 to 20 grams of this designer oil to enhance their metabolism.
Other studies tried answering this public debate regarding the advantages of coconut oil. However, no research has been able to provide a clear answer.
A meta-analysis of 2016 regarding coconut oil reviewed 21 different studies. It reported that the number of well-designed studies to clear the status of coconut oil are not sufficient.
Coconut oil generally raised the total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the body. This raise is even greater than the one seen because of cis unsaturated plant oils.
The effects of consuming coconut oil on the ratio of total body cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol has not been examined. This is because the number of research studies in this field is limited. Moreover, there are a lot of methodological mistakes in the already existing studies.
For a clearer answer, scientists require better-designed trials with proper controls, and those which are sufficiently powered. These trials must be able to investigate a whole range of CVD-related risks
Majumdar said that despite the presence of inconclusive evidence, the public is still in favor of coconut oil. As per an estimate, almost 72 percent of the people consider coconut oil as a healthy ingredient. In contrast to this, only 37 percent of the nutritionists deem it healthy.
In some cases, people even believe that this oil can miraculously cure diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and more.
As per Majumdar, it is quite challenging to fight this narrative which now describes this oil. She does not wish to make the public afraid of the food. However, she seems committed to making sure that the commoners get the most accurate info regarding coconut oil.
Her main takeaway is that people must keep the level of their saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent. This estimate includes the consumption of coconut oil.
It is time to put things into perspective, according to her.