Over the last few years coconut oil has fast become a pantry staple of the health conscious. Thought of as a ‘superfood’ it has now become very mainstream. Interestingly however, the supposed health benefits continue to be the subject of hot debate. Not to mention the continuous confusion – should we be eating it or not?
The latest round of debate was sparked by a paper recently published by the American Heart Association (AHA). It advised against using coconut oil in our diets. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, similar to butter. The AHA looked at data from several studies and concluded that intake of coconut oil did in fact increase the LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body. This can have very poor consequences on cardiovascular health.
On the other hand, over in the pro coconut oil camp the argument is centred around the type of saturated fat that coconut oil contains. The thought is that the saturated fats in coconut oil act differently in the body, compared to more typical saturated fats that you may find in meat or cream for example. It is proposed that the saturated fats in coconut oil actually mimic the effects of unsaturated or healthy fats by increasing the HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol. However, it is not that simple, and the effect of coconut oil on raising the ‘bad’ cholesterol cannot be forgotten either.
So after all this confusing debate, what should we be eating?
The bottom line is that all foods high in fat, no matter the type of fat they contain, should be consumed in moderation (as much as we would all love to eat three avocados a day!). Both healthy and unhealthy fats are high in calories, and therefore can be weight gain promoting if consumed in excess.
When choosing the types of fats to consume, it is recommended that the majority of your fat intake comes from unsaturated or healthy fats. This includes foods such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and oily fish. The benefits of mono and poly unsaturated fats are well documented. Unsaturated fats are known to decrease the bad cholesterol and increase the good.
Coconut oil is best kept as a ‘sometimes’ addition to your diet, the same as you would butter. I personally like to save coconut oil for special recipes, such as raw desserts which I make every once in a while. At this point in time, there is not sufficient, robust scientific evidence to support the use of coconut oil in the place of unsaturated oils. In day-to-day cooking, and for making your favourite salad dressings, stick to healthier oils like extra virgin olive oil, and keep coconut oil for occasional use!