COCONUT oil is very trendy at the moment. But like 80's fashion taught us, just because something is fashionable, doesn't mean it's a good idea.
Personally? I do not cook with coconut oil and I try not to eat it often.
This might surprise you. and I don't blame you ... it's all very confusing.
Every day you hear health experts and bloggers saying coconut oil is a miracle superfood that can:
- Help you lose weight
- Reduce risk of heart disease
- Reduce cravings
- Whiten your teeth
But I've gotta keep it real with you. While coconut oil may be good to use on your skin or hair, a lot of the superfood health claims about coconut oil aren't backed up by evidence.
Let's work through the claims...
Does coconut oil help you lose weight?
Short answer: No, there is no evidence that coconut oil helps you lose weight.
There is some evidence that MCT oil can help with weight loss. But MCT oil and coconut oil are not same things and research shows coconut oil does not have the same thermogenic effect as MCT oil.
(The MCT dose needed to support weight loss has been shown to cause side effects like nausea and diarrhoea. Not ideal!)
Does coconut oil reduce your risk of heart disease?
Short Answer: There is no evidence that coconut oil protects you from heart disease. But there is no evidence that it's bad for your heart.
There is some evidence that coconut oil increases LDL (bad) cholesterol less than butter. That's not so great. But it also seems to raise HDL (good) cholesterol. This is good.
So is coconut oil protective for your heart? Not that we know of. But is it bad for your heart? Honestly? We don't yet. The evidence is still emerging.
Does coconut oil reduce cravings?
Short answer: No. Coconut oil does not reduce cravings.
Studies have looked into this and found that coconut oil did not help with satiety, fullness or satisfaction. But eating fat can be filling so maybe this is where the hypothesis comes from?
Does coconut oil whiten teeth?
Short answer: No.
"Oil pulling" is the process of swishing oil in your mouth for 10-30mins. It's an ancient Ayurvedic practice in India that's supposed to help draw out toxins. Apparently, if you feel sick afterwards, it's proof that it's working.
But as far as scientific literature goes, there is no evidence that it works. Please keep brushing and flossing regularly.
Which oil do I use for cooking?
For everyday cooking and salad dressings, I use a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil (as opposed to olive oil) is really high in antioxidants that help keep the oil stable at hot temperatures, up to 200c/390F.
Store your extra virgin olive oil in a cool place (not above your stove) and use it within 6 weeks (as the antioxidants are depleted with time).
Occasionally, I'll use coconut oil if I'm making a cold dessert because it's solid at room temperature. I'll eat it about once a fortnight or month at the moment until more research emerges backing it up.
How much fat should you eat?
The 'all fat is bad for you' era is done (thank goodness) but I don't buy the current idea that we should "eat plenty of fat" and "all fat is good for you".
I believe in eating in moderation. So I choose to include a bit of healthy fat in almost every meal, mostly from plants like avocado, nuts and seeds (including tahini and nut butter), extra virgin olive oil and oily fish like salmon.
Take home message?
Coconut oil may be ok to eat but it's not a superfood. Don't be scared, but don't get sucked into the superfood hype, either.
I prefer to use extra virgin olive oil daily because there is plenty of evidence that it can help protect your heart health and it's high in antioxidants. I use coconut oil occasionally.
Coconut oil might be good as a hair mask, moisturiser or to remove make-up (though putting that much oil on my face doesn't excite me, personally).
Eat a wide variety of foods. When you cut out foods, this becomes hard.
Unlike perms and shoulder pads, moderation never goes out of style.
Want more common sense advice?
Keep It Real Program will teach you how to eat healthily without obsessing or feeling guilty. It's the opposite of a diet. It's a new approach to food so you can eat healthily without falling off the bandwagon. Find out more here.
Lyndi Cohen is an accredited practicing dietitian and the founder of the Nude Nutritionist. Head here for more from Lyndi, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
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