Aisles of health food shops are packed with bags
Coconut oil myths flour, snacks, sugar and drinks made from its meat and milk.
And leading the way is coconut oil, a sweet smelling, greasy fat used for frying, baking, spreading on toast, adding to coffee or simply rubbing into your skin. Wellness Mama lists uses including as a mental stimulant, hair conditioner and treatment for insomnia, heartburn, cuts, acne, haemorrhoids, mosquito bites and sunburn.
When it comes to superfoods, coconut oil presses all the buttons: But where this latest superfood differs from benign rivals such as blueberries, goji berries, kale avocado is that a diet rich in coconut oil may actually be bad for us.
Earlier this month, the American Heart Association AHA warned that coconut oil contains the same level of saturated fat as beef dripping.
The AHA alert, which has followed Coconut oil myths observations from scientists over the years, has triggered an online battle between those who claim the science of coconut oil is more complex
Coconut oil myths more sophisticated than food scientists acknowledge and those who say food faddists have been duped by clever marketing.
So who is right? Even if coconut oil really is full of saturated fats, are all saturated fats bad? And why do we get such conflicting messages about the fat in our diet? Coconut oil is pressed from the meat of a coconut. It has been used in Africa, Asia and South America for centuries and was routinely used in American processed food in the middle part of the 20th century.
In the s, it was the main source of non-dairy fat in the US diet until it was replaced by vegetable oils, particularly soya bean oil. Priya Tew, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, says: In the long-established pecking order of fats laid down over many years by public health officials, trans fats are classed as the least healthy.
The chemical transformation makes them hard for our bodies to process. They raise levels of bad LDL cholesterol and lower good HDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of developing heart disease and strokes; they are also linked to type 2 diabetes. In contrast, unsaturated fats are pretty universally accepted as beneficial because they raise levels of good HDL cholesterol.
That leaves saturated fats somewhere in the middle. Since the s, the message from public health bodies has been that they raise bad cholesterol, fur up arteries and increase the risk of strokes, heart disease and heart attacks. So where does the idea of coconut oil, one of the richest sources of saturated fat available, being a health food come from?
One branch of evidence often cited by the pro-coconut oil lobby is work done by Dr Marie-Pierre St-Onge, associate Coconut oil myths of nutritional medicine at Cornell University Medical School, in the early s.
Her team was looking at the impact on health of medium-chain triglycerides MCTsa form of fat molecule that has shorter chains of fatty acid than most and which is found in coconut oil in higher concentrations than any other natural food. Inher team published research comparing the effects of diets in MCTs or long-chain triglycerides LCTs on 24 overweight men.
She found that eating more MCTs over the month-long study led to losing an extra pound in weight compared with those eating a similar amount of LCTs. Further studies had similar findings.
Inshe showed that a diet containing MCTs led to more weight loss than a similar diet containing olive oil. It was a fascinating result and a reminder that not all saturated fats are the same.
And it was leapt upon by coconut oil supporters. But the link from these studies to coconut oil was arguably a leap too far. The rest are traditional LCTs. "Coconut oil myths" recent studies, it seems that it is not. One reason for this cholesterol boost is likely to be the high level of a substance called lauric acid in coconut oil.
The same analysis found it also raised harmful LDL cholesterol. There is nothing unusual about coconut oil in this respect — all saturated fats raise both good HDL and bad LDL cholesterol levels. What seems to matter is the ratio of these two types of cholesterol in our blood.
So while Lauric acid may raise good
Coconut oil myths, the increase could be offset by a rise in the bad stuff. Tew points out that not all HDL cholesterol is necessarily good. The presence of this non-functioning HDL cholesterol and the rise in bad cholesterol when we consume lauric acid could help to explain other studies that show lauric acid in our diets as being associated with an increased risk of heart disease. The theory is that the fat in coconut oil metabolises more quickly than other fats because of the high MCT content.
Coconut oil is an easier to use source of energy and so keeps brain cells going. A clinical trial into the potential impact was discontinued because there were not enough people taking part. Coconut oil is also said to be a good source of antioxidants. Coconut oil is also Coconut oil myths in the essential fatty acids, which makes it much worse than lard or palm oil.
For Tew, the coconut oil issue is another example of the perils of classifying some foods as superfoods. Labelling products as superfoods can fool people into thinking they are eating well when they are not.
The obsession with expensive, exotic superfoods also means we forget the easy, cheap foods that are more likely to keep us healthy — apples, oranges, broccoli and milk.
But if canonising foods is unhelpful, Coconut oil myths perhaps so is demonising them. And here, public health officials may have been guilty of oversimplification — and an unfair assessment of fats.
In the past few years, the debate over whether fats have been wrongly turned into villains has become intense and polarised. At one extreme are cardiologists such as Dr Aseem Malhotrawho last year told the media, during the launch of a controversial National Obesity Forum report into fat: But even more moderate voices acknowledge that the low-fat diet health message is too crude — and not always supported by the evidence.
One of the best studies into saturated fats and heart disease was a Cochrane review of 15 clinical trials covering 59, people, which found that cutting out saturated fat and replacing it with carbs and proteins made no difference to cardiovascular disease.
It seemed to be showing that saturated fats are no worse for us than carbs — but that the real benefits come when we swap them for olive oils, nut oils and the fats "Coconut oil myths" avocado.
Sanders believes not all saturated fats are the same. Coconut oil myths
Dairy provides other things — magnesium, calcium and nutrients that may counteract the effects of saturated fat. But while not all fats are equal, Sanders, like most food scientists, remains unconvinced by the health claims for coconut oil or the suggestion that the saturated fat in coconut oil is less harmful than other saturated fats.
There is, he says, insufficient evidence for claims. Coconut oil may be no Coconut oil myths, but equally, it is no villain. He has written for the Observer on acupuncture, mindfulness and the science of wine-tasting. According to health food websites, coconut oil can be used to treat everything from thyroid disorders to thrush, via brittle bones and dementia.
But in a recent report, the British Nutrition Foundation said: Coconut oil advocates believe that it has powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties because it contains lauric acid, a fatty acid also found in breast milk. It is true that lauric acid derived from coconut oil acts as an antibiotic, but this has only been seen in vitro and at super-concentrated doses. In studies where the two have been directly compared, coconut oil was shown to be as useful as water at killing bacteria.
Here are three more of the most commonly cited, "Coconut oil myths" dubious health uses
Coconut oil myths coconut oil to be wary of. Skin While it is true that coconut oil is found in many sunscreens, coconut oil on its own has an SPF of around 1. Hair Coconut Coconut oil myths is believed to moisturise, provide nutrients, kill bacteria and improve circulation of blood in the scalp.
Some websites even promote it as a way to slow hair loss. In truth, coconut oil contains tiny amounts of nutrients and its antibacterial properties are unproved. Any effect it has on your hair is purely cosmetic. There is no evidence that this works.
However, there have been cases of lipoid pneumonia, when the oil is accidentally inhaled into the lungs and causes disease. Dietary fat can be divided into two camps — the solid, mostly animal-derived saturated fats such as lard, dripping and butter and the liquid, unsaturated fats such as olive oil and nut oil, mostly derived from plants.
We are so used to bandying around words such as saturated and trans fat that many of us or at "Coconut oil myths" those of us without a chemistry A-level rarely consider what the words mean.
Whether a fat is saturated or unsaturated depends on the way that carbon atoms in the long chains of fatty acids found in fat molecules Coconut oil myths connected to one another. In an unsaturated fat molecule, one or more carbon atoms are linked by double bonds.
If the circumstances are right, one of these bonds Coconut oil myths loosen and connect to a passing hydrogen atom, adding another hydrogen atom to the molecule. However, in a saturated fat such as lard, all the carbon atoms are held together with single bonds. Trans fats are cheaper than normal saturated fats, more suitable for industrial scale baking and have a longer shelf life.
A fat is monounsaturated if it contains just one double Coconut oil myths among its carbon atoms. If it has many double bonds, it is polyunsaturated. This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our "Coconut oil myths" is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative.
The links are powered by Skimlinks. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that Skimlinks cookies will be set. Topics Coconuts The Observer.
Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading? Britons go nuts for coconut water. High-fat oil and low-paid farmers: There are a lot of health claims that surround coconut and coconut oil. So many that it requires its own article. Let's look at each of the claims. Myth: Coconut oil is a heart-healthy cooking alternative.