Its the most recent superfood, endorsed by wellness bloggers and celebrities, yet it contains more saturated fat than lard
It wasnt that long ago that the closest most Britons got to a coconut was at the fairground or on the inside of a Bounty bar. Yet in the past three years, this hard, hairy drupe( thats the official word) of the coconut palm tree has emerged as the latest superfood extolled by celebrities and health food shops for its nutritional, healing and mind-enhancing powers.
Aisles of health food shops are packed with bags of flour, snacks, milk, sugar and beverages made from its meat and milk. And leading the way is coconut petroleum, a sweet smelling, greasy fat used for sauteing, baking, spreading on toast, adding to coffee or simply scratching into your skin.
Its hard to exaggerate how much hype surrounds coconut oil on health food websites, blogs and YouTube channels. Wellness Mama lists 101 utilizes including as a mental stimulant, hair conditioner and therapy for insomnia, heartburn, cuts, acne, haemorrhoids, mosquito bites and sunburn. Everdine recommends using coconut oil to cook with at every snack due, while Holland& Barrett claims coconut petroleum is very healthy, adding: Coconut oil is the little black dress of wellbeing everyone should have some!
Sites like these, along with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kourtney Kardashian , have helped UK sales of coconut oil rise over the past four years from around 1m to 16.4 m last year, according to consumer research group Kantar.
When it comes to superfoods, coconut oil presses all the buttons: its natural, its enticingly exotic, its surrounded by health claims and at up to 8 for a 500 ml pot at Tesco, its appropriately pricey. But where this latest superfood distinguished from benign competitors such as blueberries, goji berries, kale and avocado is that a diet rich in coconut petroleum 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. In fact, its so oozing with artery-clogging saturated fat that lard is a healthier option.
The AHA alert, which has followed similar observations from scientists over the years, has triggered an online combat between those who claim the science of coconut oil is more complex and more sophisticated than food scientists acknowledge and the individuals who say food faddists have been deceived 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 20 th century. In the 1940 s, it was the main source of non-dairy fat in the US diet until it was replaced by vegetable oils, particularly soya bean petroleum. Fears about its high saturated fat content emerged in the middle of the last century and are rife today, even as the petroleum makes a revival among health food lovers.
Priya Tew, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, says: Coconut oil is a high saturated fat. Its about 92% saturated fat so more than lard or butter. If a woman has two tablespoons, she is feeing 20 g of saturated fat, her recommended daily amount.
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 attains them hard for our bodies to process. They raise high 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 create levels of good HDL cholesterol. That leaves saturated fats somewhere in the middle.
Since the 1970 s, the message from public health bodies has been that they raise bad cholesterol, fur up arteries and increase health risks of strokes, heart disease and heart attack. Thats the view of the UK government, the World Health Organisation and virtually every other public health body in the world. 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 petroleum hall is work done by Dr Marie-Pierre St-Onge, associate prof of nutritional medicine at Cornell University Medical School, in the early 2000 s. Her team was looking at the impact on health of medium-chain triglycerides( MCTs ), a sort of fat molecule that has shorter chains of fatty acid than most and which is found in coconut petroleum in higher concentrations than any other natural food.
In 2003, her team published research comparing the effects of diets rich in MCTs or long-chain triglycerides( LCTs) on 24 overweight humen. She found that eating more MCTs over the month-long analyze led to losing an extra pound in weight compared with those eating a similar sum of LCTs. Further surveys had similar findings. In 2008, she showed that a diet containing MCTs led to more weight loss than a similar diet containing olive oil.
It was a fascinating outcome and a reminder that not all saturated fats are the same. And it was leapt upon by coconut oil advocates. Holland& Barretts website, for example, claims that the majority of fat in coconut oil is made up of MCTs. But the link from these studies to coconut oil was arguably a leap too far. Recent analyses indicate that coconut petroleum actually comprises merely 13 -1 5% MCTs. The remainder are traditional LCTs.
From what I can tell, my research is being used to say that coconut petroleum is healthy, but this is a very liberal extrapolation of what weve actually analyzed, says Dr St-Onge.
In her exams, volunteers were given a concoction made from 100% MCTs.
We dont know if the amount in coconut oil is sufficient to have similar effects as pure MCT oil in releasing energy expenditure and improving satiety and weight management. From recent studies, it seems that it is not.
Read more: www.theguardian.com