Nutrition has become a lot like discussing politics and religion recently. People get emotionally attached to a diet or an opinion and sometimes miss the bigger picture.
Nutrition is not black and white unfortunately. The great coconut debate is a classic example.
I wouldn’t dismiss coconut oil as bad for you, just because it contains a high percentage of saturated fat.
Genetics, Diet & Coconuts
Take 1 Eskimo from Siberia and 1 Italian dude straight out o’ Naples – you can’t feed them both the same diet and expect them both to be in tip-top health.
Whilst the Eskimo is (presumably) used to, and adapted to, high fat & high protein diet, the Italian may be well adapted to a high carb diet.
This is why a lot of the data is so confusing when it comes to diet.
Moving back to coconut oil; there are a number of studies showing that populations who eat lots of coconuts actually have lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
okelauans obtain a much higher percentage of energy from coconut than the Pukapukans, 63% compared with 34%, so their intake of saturated fat is higher. The serum cholesterol levels are 35 to 40 mg higher in Tokelauans than in Pukapukans. These major differences in serum cholesterol levels are considered to be due to the higher saturated fat intake of the Tokelauans. Analysis of a variety of food samples, and human fat biopsies show a high lauric (12:0) and myristic (14:0) content. Vascular disease is uncommon in both populations and there is no evidence of the high saturated fat intake having a harmful effect in these populations.
Remember however, that as these indigenous people live in areas where coconuts have grown for thousands of years, they’re well adapted to living off coconuts and may well have evolved to thrive off a high cholesterol diet – if coconut is the main part of their diet, people susceptible to high cholesterol and heart attacks will have died off a long time ago, taking their genes with them!
In addition, coconut oil that is refined, may have a different impact on markers of heart health than ‘whole coconuts’.
This is what is so confusing! Without a range of human studies, based on humans who share your particular heritage and genetics, it’s very difficult to conclude whether or not coconut oil is going to be good or bad for you.
You can get genetic testing done by companies such as 23 and me. These tests should inform you as to whether or not you’re particular body would thrive or diet on a high cholesterol based diet.
Coconut Oil Contains MCTs & Lauric Acid
Coconut oil doesn’t contain your typical saturated fat. It’s a lot different from that found in animal based foods for example. MCTs may actually help with weight loss, brain health and even the prevention of heart disease.
Lauric acid also has a number of health benefits, and can be used to treat everything from flu to gonorrhea. More info here.
Debunking a Diet Trend is a Great Marketing Technique
Debunking a popular dieting trend like the keto diet, coconut oil or even Lean in 15 – is a great marketing technique.
People love sharing ‘I told you so’ headlines on their social media. Bear this in mind when reading an article title.
Even the BBC are at it with their ‘low carb diets could shorten life‘ bollocks. If you read the article it actually shows that low carb, plant based diets, increased longevity.
One Study to Rule Them All
For every study that shows the fat diets increase cholesterol and the risk of heart attacks etc. there’s another (take this one for example) that shows the same diet protocol reduces cholesterol and increases longevity.
Scientific studies are also the ultimate marketing asset.
Take the 33% longer Lucozade campaign for example.
They paid a leading university, a 6 figure sum to carry out the research into the drink…and the result was that it increased endurance by one-third, almost exactly one-third, hmm…
Then an independent study showed that chocolate milk was actually more effective when it came to rehydration after exercise. Study here.
A lot of studies are bollocks, especially when there’s a large profit at stake.
The pharmaceutical industry is well known for paying huge amounts to universities for example. You need to look into the details of the study before you go citing it as an absolute truth.
So What’s the Conclusion on Coconut Oil Then?
Consume in moderation, is probably the best philosophy at the moment. Between 5 and 10g per day.
The only other conclusion I can make looking at the evidence that I’ve seen, is that high fat diets are healthy for some people, and unhealthy for others. Same goes for high carbohydrate diets.
I would also point out that frying in coconut oil is a lot healthier than frying with vegetable oil or even olive oil in terms of the carcinogenic chemicals that get produced from oils that are liquid at room temperature.
Vegetable oil is a different topic – but personally I would steer well clear of any vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, as it is processed at very high temperatures to extract the oil, making it carcinogenic.
- Nobody really knows, there aren’t enough human studies on refined coconut oil
- It depends on your genetics
- Saturated fat is an umbrella term
- Coconut oil is a healthy option for frying
Further info on coconut oil at Examine.com.