Let’s get back to basics!
With so much contrasting evidence splashed all over the media, it can be extremely difficult to make dietary decisions and even harder to know which is the ‘correct’ evidence and which is being misconstrued to confuse readers and simply make a good headline.
Coconut oil has been a foodie favourite for some years now and many consumers have been replacing butter, olive oil and all other ‘bad fats’ with this so called ‘superfood’ until the American Heart Association recently released a review of the data on saturated fat intake and dietary carbohydrates. The media has since demonised it’s use and dissuading customers to consume the product.
Is the media correct? Or was it simply a good story to fill the front page. Let us break down some of the science.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat, one which is solid at room temperature. This means it has no double bonds in it’s structure, butter and red meat also fall into this category.
Olive oils, avocado oil and other vegetable oils which tend to be liquid at room temperature and some nuts and seeds are monounsaturated fats. This means they have one double bond in their structure.
Oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts are polyunsaturated fats, meaning their have more than one double bond in their structure. There are two main types of these important in our diet, omega 3 and omega 6.
Saturated and unsaturated fats behave differently in our body, in order to understand this it is important to briefly understand our cholesterol.
There are two types of cholesterol in our body; LDL and HDL. LDL is typically known as ‘bad cholesterol’, thickening our arteries and putting us at risk of heart attacks and strokes. HDL, or the so called ‘good cholesterol’ reduces the cholesterol from your arteries thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. So the total cholesterol is not quite as important as the ratio of HDL to LDL.
Saturated fats are often portrayed in a bad light due to their relationship with LDL cholesterol, however it is important to recognise that some saturated fats can also increased HDL cholesterol, so whilst they increase our overall cholesterol they also improve our ‘ratio’. Unsaturated fats increased our HDL cholesterol more than saturated fats, explaining their ‘good’ attributes.
The American Heart Association looked at a few studies involving coconut oil and found that it does indeed raise cholesterol levels, which is not new scientific evidence. Combined with the existing knowledge that high cholesterol is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease it is easy to see how the papers get their headlines.
However, no study found that coconut oil directly increases our risk of cardiovascular disease nor did they compare its use with other oils.
So whilst we should by no means be spooning coconut oil into our mouths or coating our food with it, it should not be neglected in our cooking. Everything has its place in our diet and moderation and variety are key.
I expect that most people have a basic understanding that eating a huge bag of fried chips every day would be detrimental to our health, however sharing some with friends once a week is not something to punish yourself over, the same goes for coconut oil. Use it in small quantities in your cooking but also use olive oil and other vegetable oils.
For further information, we recommend the American Heart Association review:
Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association