Over the past few years, nutritionists, wellness experts and clean living advocates have been championing coconut oil. It’s been dubbed the healthier oil and is now widely available in pretty much every supermarket. According to the research group Kantar, UK sales of coconut oil have shot up from £1m to £16.4m in the past four years.
Yet not everyone is quite so fond of the ingredient though. In her lecture ‘Coconut Oil and Other Nutritional Errors’, Harvard professor Karin Michels called it “pure poison” and “one of the worst foods you can eat”.
Michels isn’t the only one pointing out the flaws in coconut oils healthy reputation. Last month, the American Heart Association (AHA) warned that it contained the same levels of saturated fat as beef dripping. In fact, it contains more than 80 percent of saturated fats, which is over twice the amount found in lard.
High amounts of saturated fats can raise your levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein), also known as bad cholesterol, which can in turn increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. “There has been speculation that some of the saturated fat present in coconut oil may be better for us than other saturated fats, but so far there is not enough good-quality research to provide us with a definitive answer,” says British Heart Foundation dietitian, Victoria Taylor.
With this in mind, there is some truth to the superfood claims celebrities and clean-eating Instagrammers make about coconut oil. There is research to suggest that eating coconut can help increase your amounts of HDL (tktkt), aka good cholesteral thanks to the high amounts of lauric acid. It’s also often referred to as a good source of antioxidants. Although some experts still argue that it’s low in essential fatty acids and vitamin E.
There is still a lot of research to be done around coconut oil, but most experts are unwilling to tout it as a health food as the pros don’t outweigh the potential cons at the moment. In the meantime, it might be worth looking to vegetable oil, olive oil and sunflower oil instead as all three have higher amounts of unsaturated fats than saturated.