In today’s world of YouTube personalities, bloggers, celebrity influencers and social media madness, food trends are more prevalent than ever before. For the most part this is great; since it means more recipes to try out, free health advice, and a great big online community to interact with. So, everyone wins, right?
The problem is that since the digital world is more desperate than ever to gather eyeballs by any means necessary, there can be more than a few little white lies, outright fibs in some cases, and misleading claims in other cases. Simply put; when you have hundreds of personalities all desperate to grab your attention, these personalities will perhaps spread information than isn’t always accurate.
Case in point; coconut oil. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, a superfood, so great that it may as well be repackaged as the fountain of youth and the elixir of long life in oil form. Correct? No. It’s bad for you. At least until next week Tuesday, in which case it might be good for you again. Do you really know any more?
Why don’t we have a closer look, and see what we can discover?
The Coconut Connection
If you happen to meander into a health food shop, likely on a mission to extend your life well into the 100s, you’ll know that coconut oil is being used for just about everything these days. At least inside health food shops. Given that coconut oil is, well, an oil, it can be transformed into just about anything. Flour, milk, sugar – the possibilities are almost endless. Heck, you can slap some on toast and munch it as a snack while you play casino games. Or why not rub some on your face for that celebrity skin glow? That is how celebrities stay young, after all. Not surgery or Botox. Right?
On the website Wellness Mama the uses of the oil are taken to the extreme, verging on being more than a little quirky. Did you know it could cure insomnia? How about that it can be used to heal burns, banish acne, treat sunburn and even sort out haemorrhoids?
On that note, is it coincidence that the phrase snake oil shares a word with coconut oil?
Is it Really Good For You?
So here’s a serious question; is coconut oil really good for you? The American Heart Association released a report that, in fact, that the oil of coconuts contains about the same amount of saturated fat as beef drippings. To put it another way, cooking with lard is a healthier option. But hold your horses. Surely this can’t be true, or health stores wouldn’t be packed wall to wall with the stuff, in every form it’s possible to shape oil into.
Let’s look at this a bit more scientifically. The oil squeezed from the flesh of the coconut is about 92% saturated fat. What is saturated fat? It’s the type of fat that is largely associated with causing heart attacks, heart disease and other such general death related to the heart. Unsaturated fats on the other hand, are mutually agreed upon as being good for you. They raise the cholesterol your body needs, and are found in things like avocados and nuts.
Just to reiterate; coconut oil is 92% saturated fat, not unsaturated fat. So what exactly is going on here?
The Study That Changed The Game
Dr Marie-Pierre St-Onge conducted a study in early 2000, which is where the vast majority of those pushing the oil as a healthy super food get their information. The study done was on medium-chain triglycerides, also referred to as MCTs. This is a fat molecule that is set apart from other fats, due to it being created by shorter chains of fatty acid.
In the study a diet of long-chain triglycerides, or LCTs, was compared to a diet of MCTs. The results published showed that MCTs were beneficial, and helped a person eating a diet rich with it lose weight. The results were retested, and confirmed.
As you may have already guessed, MCTs are present in our friend the oil of the coconut. Though, there is only one problem.
The Doctor Says No
Dr St-Onge, who ran the study, has come forward to expressly state that she is aware that her study is being used to promote coconut oil as a health food, and that she disagrees. In her own words, claiming that this form of oil is healthy, citing her studies as proof, is a very liberal extrapolation of the truth. In her study the Doctor used a diet of 100% MCTs, so claiming that the study is a direct endorsement of oil squeezed from coconuts is a stretch to say the least.
Likewise, the cholesterol benefits are also not based on solid data, with the general opinion being that the touted “good” cholesterol gain is not necessarily offset by “bad” cholesterol gain. In other words; the real benefits are more or less minimal. Of course, you can read up yourself, and make your own decisions…