Wellness enthusiasts swear by it in their bulletproof coffees, raw treats and as a natural body moisturiser, but that doesn’t mean coconut oil hasn’t been without its critics.
Just last month, Harvard professor, Karin Michels was quoted calling it “pure poison” and stated that it is one of the worst foods you could ever eat in a lecture entitled ‘Coconut oil and other nutritional errors’.
In 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a study that claimed that saturated fat—regardless of the source—contributes to a higher risk of heart disease. This study was slammed for a number of reasons including the fact that the institution is funded by various food companies, each with an invested interest, but we digress.
Amongst all this, each time a new headline pops up around the health integrity of coconut and its by-products, everyone jumps on it—making the discussion even that more confusing (and nutrition is confusing enough).
So, after constant back and forth and much heated debate, where does our beloved coconut oil stand at this present time? We’re revisiting this argument with the help of registered nutritionist, Steph Wearne as she shares her expert opinion on the humble little coconut family and how it can play a part in a healthy, balanced diet.
As a nutritionist, what are your views on coconut-based products?
Coconut is a natural, plant-based food that contains healthy fats, fibre and antioxidants, so I believe that natural coconut products can definitely be used in moderation in a balanced diet.
Coconut oil in particular has copped a bit of slack recently—what is your response to this?
There is evidence now available to show that saturated fat (ie. what is in coconut oil) doesn’t have an association with increased risk of heart disease*. We also know there are many benefits of coconut oil. What research doesn’t show is the long term effects of someone having a tablespoon in their bulletproof coffee, plus 1 tablespoon in their smoothie, then using it to cook lunch and dinner as well as a slice of raw dessert with up to 1 cup of coconut oil in the recipe.
We need to remember it is just another oil that can have its place in our balanced diets, but I definitely wouldn’t say it’s superior to other healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil. We should use it in moderation when the recipe is suitable for that coconut flavour.
Although known to have many health benefits, should people still be mindful of the high content fat in coconuts?
We know that the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil can be a great source of energy, so as long as it’s being consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, the high fat content should not be a concern as with other healthy oils.
Do coconut products have a place in weight-loss?
Yes absolutely they can–they are wholefood based products and a balanced wholefood diet is the best thing you can follow for weight loss.
EVOO vs. Coconut oil–would you recommend one of the other? Why?
Personally I LOVE extra virgin olive oil for its antioxidant and polyphenol properties, but I also use coconut oil in my diet too and they both have their own beneficial nutritional profiles. It’s best just use some common sense, have both in the pantry and use which ever one suits the recipe you are making best as the coconut flavour won’t be appropriate with everything.
Is there a way to ensure you’re buying into quality when it comes to coconut-based products? What should we be looking for?
Yes, firstly no additives or preservatives. So, if it’s a coconut milk or cream then it should just be coconut meat and water. If it’s a coconut yoghurt, it will be coconut with added cultures and for a coconut oil, an unrefined, organic, extra virgin coconut oil is best.
Does coconut and its by-products have any gut health benefits?
Although it is not known as one of the most potent foods for gut health, coconut naturally has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties which is helpful for fighting off any bad bacteria in the gut.
Is there an instance where you wouldn’t be recommending coconut products to your clients?
Some people who have nut allergies might need to be careful with coconut products and intolerances to coconut can be seen also, so these people would need to limit or avoid their coconut intake.
What are some of your favourite ways to enjoy coconut products?
There’s nothing better than a hot chocolate made with coconut milk. Just mix 1 tsp cacao powder with coconut milk from the carton (a tiny bit of sweetener if you wish) and heat on the stove. I also love using some coconut oil in my homemade chocolate and adding some toasted coconut flakes to the mix!
*Siri-Tarino PW et al., 2010. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91, 3, 535-546.