Coconut oil

Lets talk coconut oil!

So now we know coconut oil is not as good for you as originally thought ….errrr hello!?

There have been a variety of articles in the news papers (The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Independent…the list goes on) and magazines about coconut oil being as bad for you as beef fat or butter.  This has been a frustrating area for many as this is not really new and those practising evidence based nutrition have been warning about the negative aspects of coconut oil in large doses for a while now.

What has spurred the flurry of these reports is an article published in a journal by The American Heart Association (AHA).  The article is a review of the current evidence surrounding dietary fat and cardiovascular disease (CVD).  Within this article coconut oil is mentioned.  Unsurprisingly 72% of Americans believe coconut oil to be ‘healthy’.  I have included a table from the report showing the total saturated, monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fatty acid profile of commonly used fats.

 

Saturated, g/100 g Mono-unsaturated, g/100 g Poly-unsaturated, g/100 g
Total Total Total
Canola oil 7 63 28
Coconut oil 82 6 2
Corn oil 13 28 55
Dairy fat (butter) 63 26 4
Lard (pork) 39 45 11
Olive oil 14 73 10
Palm oil 49 37 9
Palm kernel oil 82 11 2
Peanut oil 17 46 32
Safflower oil (high linoleic) 6 14 75
Safflower oil (high oleic)* 8 75 13
Soybean oil 16 23 58
Sunflower oil (high linoleic) 10 20 66
Sunflower oil (high oleic)* 10 84 4
Tallow (beef) 50 42 4

As you can see, the amount of saturated fat per 100g is more than butter, animal fat and more than double the amount of lard.

So, lets put this into perspective.

There are three main types of fat: Saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated and most fats contain a mixture of these although in different proportions.  Saturated fat has been found to increase LDL cholesterol in the blood, which is associated with increased risk of CVD.  Evidence suggests consuming more mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats can reduce the risk of CVD.  There have been some studies to indicate that replacing fats with carbohydrates can reduce your CVD risk, however there is not enough evidence to advise this currently. This said replacing fat intake with wholegrains has been found to have a positive effect.

I have included a table summarising the differences between saturated, trans, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Saturated fat Fats that are solid at room temperature.

Can increase cholesterol in blood.

Swap for unsaturated fats.

Butter, lard, ghee, suet, palm oil, fat on meat (including processed meats such as sausages, ham & burgers), full fat dairy products (including full fat milk, full fat yoghurts & hard cheese), cream, processed foods including pastries, pies, cakes, biscuits & majority of take-aways, coconut oil and coconut cream.
Trans fat Vegetable oils that have been processed to be solid.

Can increase cholesterol in blood.

Limit in the diet.

Fried food, take-aways & processed foods such as cakes, biscuits & pastries (will appear on list of ingredients as ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable fats/oil’).
Mono-unsaturated fat Can help reduce CVD risk. Avocados, olive oil, olives, rapeseed oil, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts & pistachios.
Poly-unsaturated fat Can reduce CVD risk. Oily fish, corn oil, sesame oil, soya oil, flaxseed, pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds & walnuts.

So what about coconut oil?

The AHA advise against the use of coconut oil in the diet because of its link of increasing LDL cholesterol, which is known to be a cause of CVD.

The issue with how this has been portrayed in the media is that coconut oil is ‘bad’ and that can cause a lot of negative feelings such as guilt and remorse if eaten. Ironically up until recently coconut oil was portrayed completely differently and was actually glorified, which wasn’t healthy either (even if it was good for you!).  We need to stop being over-zealous with our food!

My advice is to include coconut oil as part of a healthy balanced diet. It complements asian dishes and could be used to enhance flavour, just remember to use in moderation.

 

If you work in fields relating to CVD I would highly recommend reading the full article as it is an interesting read.

Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Frank M. Sacks, Alice H. Lichtenstein, Jason H.Y. Wu, Lawrence J. Appel, Mark A. Creager, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Michael Miller, Eric B. Rimm, Lawrence L. Rudel, Jennifer G. Robinson, Neil J. Stone, Linda V. Van Horn and On behalf of the American Heart Association; Circulation. published online June 15, 2017.
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