It’s a dietary fad, a “superfood” and sometimes even used to remove makeup, but according to one Harvard University professor, coconut oil is nothing but poison.
During a German lecture last month by professor Karin Michels of the department of epidemiology, Michels said coconut oil was “pure poison,” Business Insider reports.
The comment, which has garnered attention from social media users around the world, has brought up an age-old question on food with saturated fat: is it good for us?
One of the ‘worst foods’
Michels went on to add that coconut oil was one of the worst foods you could eat.
Michels said there were no studies that showed the health benefits of eating coconut oil and added the oil was more “dangerous” than other types of fat, Business Insider continued.
“It almost exclusively contains saturated fatty acids, ones that can clog the coronary arteries. You can identify fats that contain large quantities of saturated fatty acids by checking to see whether they remain solid at room temperature, as is the case with butter or lard,” the site notes.
But registered dietitian and blogger Abbey Sharp of Abbey’s Kitchen, said calling a single food “pure poison” is quite dramatic.
Is it healthy?
“While coconut oil isn’t a superfood, it isn’t inherently problematic either,” she told Global News. “Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, which for years has been demonized in the nutrition media. But a recent meta-analysis found that a diet rich in saturated fats doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of heart disease so now everyone is on a sat-fat kick.”
READ MORE: Coconut oil the latest dietary craze in B.C.
Coconut oil in particular also contains a unique saturated fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), she adds.
“MCTs are metabolized differently in the body and may have some thermogenic (that is mild fat burning) benefits. Unfortunately, the fats in coconut oil are not pure MCTs (it’s about 50 to 65 per cent), and the predominant MCT in coconut oil (lauric acid) is probably considered the least effective MCT because it’s the longest chain.”
In 2017, an advisory update published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation noted coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol (or the bad cholesterol) like butter, beef fat and palm oil.
“We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels,” lead author Dr. Frank Sacks said in a statement in 2017.
“Saturated fat increases LDL — bad cholesterol — which is a major cause of artery-clogging plaque and cardiovascular disease.”
But whether it has benefits or not, coconut oil is still pure fat with about 100 calories a tablespoon.
“I wouldn’t go putting it on everything or eating spoonfuls of it. Cooking with it in moderation, however, is totally A-OK in my books,” Sharp said.
“I personally love it for its tropical flavour. In general, I recommend that people aim to get a wide variety of fats in their diet to get the balance of fatty acids our body needs.”