Personally, we’re huge fans of coconut in all of its forms, and seeing the rise of its inclusion in waters, ice creams, and as a regular supply of healthy fats in our diet has been a pleasure to indulge in. However coconut as an ingredient, in particular coconut oil, has taken a real beating lately, largely at the hands of Harvard Professor Dr. Karin Michels.
Dr. Michels of Harvard’s School of Public Health recently lead a scathing review of coconut oil, calling it “pure poison” in a now infamous viral video released in August. The claims immediately send shock waves through the health world. Wasn’t coconut oil supposed to be our friend?
“It is one of the worst foods you can eat,” said Dr. Michels in the YouTube clip. Michels’ main case against coconut oil is the level of saturated fat – reportedly 82 per cent. However as with all sources of saturated fats (and nutritional advice), it’s necessary for an objective comparison to also take in the benefits of coconut as an oil and butter substitute.
With the impending launch of new coconut infused products that had the MH team salivating, such as new coconut waters and FroPro ice cream, we needed to get to the bottom of the issue. To help clear the confusion, we turned to Paediatric Nutritionist and author of Wholesome Child, Mandy Sacher, to provide a balanced appraisal of one our favourite ingredients.
What are the health benefits of coconut oil, and the what are the dangers?
Coconut oil has more saturated fat than butter, yet studies show it is one of the most stable oils at high heat, it is satiating and has numerous health benefits.
Natural and unprocessed, coconut oil is one of the richest sources of Lauric acid – a healthy medium chain-triglyceride (MCT) found in breast milk. When Lauric acid is digested, it forms a substance called Monolaurin. Both Lauric acid and Monolaurin can help kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Coconut oil also contains Capric and Caprylic acid – more beneficial saturated fats, with antibacterial properties.
What is the difference between refined and unrefined coconut oil?
I always prefer to use unrefined coconut oil as it is less processed and also has a more subtle flavour than refined. Virgin coconut oil is the best option as it has not undergone any processing. In terms of flavour, there are many different virgin coconut oils on the market and they all vary in flavour so shop around to find the one you most enjoy.
How much is recommended?
I always advise that moderation is key. Often foods may be touted as an elixir of health and shortly afterwards they are debunked. The best way to ensure that we are reaping the benefits of any food is to enjoy in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Coconut oil is best used in combination with other healthy oils like extra virgin, cold pressed avocado, macadamia and flaxseed oil as well as natural sources of good fats like nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocado. I love coconut oil because it has a nutty sweet taste and I always recommend it to friends, family and clients for use in baking.
Our Verdict: As with everything in life, it seems that moderation is key when it comes to coconut oil. However despite the comparatively high saturated fat content, other associated health benefits still make coconut oil a more viable option for long term health.