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The Coconut Oil Myth

This is a reply to the article posted by BBC titled Coconut Oil ‘as unhealthy as beef fat and butter’ -> that article can be found here

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Oh great..the media has picked out one food or group of foods and proclaimed them to be dangerous to your health..again!

I wonder if you were stranded on a desert island and all you had to eat was coconut products would they be bad then? No, they’d be keeping you alive. So in that context they’re okay right? That’s what always gets missed, context. There are no real ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods in the context of your whole diet and lifestyle and it’s ignorant and misleading to label any as such – it’s scare mongering. If you exercise regularly, eat pretty well most of the time, lots of fruits and vegetables, aren’t overweight and have a handle on your stress levels and sleep do you really think including coconut oil (or any food for that matter) is going to be very detrimental?

On the other hand coconut oil is not a panacea of health as you might be lead to believe either. No food is,in isolation. That’s why eating a variety of whole foods is a good thing.
I should probably point out here as well that there is nothing inherently wrong with consuming butter or beef fat either as the headline would suggest. But at the same time it’s probably not ideal for most people to dump a load of butter and coconut oil into their coffee for breakfast…

The article is pushing coconut oil, beef fat & butter to be unhealthy because of the saturated fat content and it’s effect on cholesterol lipoproteins (LDL & HDL). So yes it is true that consuming too much saturated fat is not a good idea (balance and variety of fats is good) – the studies don’t actually single out coconut oil though, which does have some health benefits (as do most foods). For example it’s a great cooking oil since it is very heat stable and therefore hard to burn. Which makes it a great choice of cooking oil, especially frying.

You should get a balance of healthy fats; saturated, monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats from whole food sources. And while eating more saturated fat can increase total cholesterol (both HDL and LDL) it’s the ratio of cholesterol that matters more, as well as levels of triglycerides. And without getting too complex, there are two types of LDL and saturated fats seem to increase the levels of the more benign form, so while total blood cholesterol may be increased it’s ‘better’ cholesterol. So while it’s not as simple as saying LDL is bad and HDL is good – healthy eating is pretty simple

AND, studies do not show that eating saturated fat increases risk of cardiovascular disease, or death BUT they do show that if you replace some saturated fat with monounsaturated fats like those in olive oil, avocados, nuts and/or omega 3 fats found in fish that it can reduce cardiovascular disease risk. This is not the same as saying saturated fat consumption is bad. Now some people may want to reduce saturated fat consumption – people with certain genetic high cholesterol disorders for example or if you find eating more saturated fat increases your triglycerides or other markers of health. So surprise surprise the same recommendations cannot be applied to every single person – individual variation counts for a lot.

So to sum-up. Coconut oil or any other one food isn’t going to hurt you or save you all by itself. Your activity levels, the rest of your diet, your weight, your stress levels, your sleep and overall lifestyle – they are what is going to make or break your health and longevity – not coconut oil, beef fat, butter or any other moronically singled-out food item.

By Bodyfirst Nutritionist Brian O’HÁonghusa

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