Poison or superfood? Why coconut oil is creating such a buzz

Coconut oil
It's important to remember that no one food is inherently all 'good' or all 'bad'

Harvard professor’s claim about coconut oil being “pure poison” has angered many Indians

Last month, claims by Dr Karin Michels, a Harvard professor that coconut oil is “pure poison” and “one of the worst things you can eat” triggered a fierce debate about the health benefits of coconut oil.

A staple cooking medium in many parts of India, there would probably not be a household in the entire country that does not use it in some form or the other.

While making a speech at University of Freiburg in Germany, Dr Michels suggested that the oil contains alarmingly high amounts of saturated fatty acids.

This goes against the common belief that coconut oil is good for health. Some even claim it to be a “superfood” that can be used in any meal, and with curative powers to boot.

Medibulletin explores the coconut oil conundrum.

The long history of coconut oil

The general argument in favor of coconut oil is that it’s been used for centuries in Southern states of India as well as other Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. Many took offence that a Western doctor was “imposing” her beliefs on a product that non-Western countries have used for decades. We in India also use it as hair oil as well as for skin care.

 It’s important to remember that no one food is inherently all ‘good’ or all ‘bad’.

But in the past five years or so, people in the United States and other Western countries have come to embrace coconut oil with a fervent passion. So much so that coconut oil has moved into the rarefied world of “health-halo” status. Meaning, its health benefits are perceived to include curative properties too.

So how concerned should you be about its presence in your diet?

Coconut oil is almost all saturated fat and if consumed with a diet high in saturated fats, you may be consuming well over the recommended 20g per day for women and 30g per day for men.

Doctors say that eating foods that contain saturated fatty acids can increase your risk of developing coronary heart disease, due to a rise in the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood.

In addition to coconut oil, other foods that are high in saturated fat include butter, cheese, ghee, and red meat.

On the other side, foods that are high in unsaturated fat include fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.

So should you exclude saturated fats from your diet?

Whether or not to reduce one’s fat intake as part of a healthy diet has been a source of controversy for quite some time. A study published in The Lancet last year said that following a low-fat diet can increase your risk of early death by a quarter.

Doctors say that there’s nothing wrong with consuming coconut oil when done in moderation. It’s important to remember that no one food is inherently all ‘good’ or all ‘bad’.


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