Unless you’ve been hiding under a nutritional rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the latest coconut oil controversy. This summer, Harvard professor Karin Michels called coconut oil “pure poison” in a lecture she gave in Germany. She added that it’s “one of the worst foods you can eat.” CNN reports that she further stated that all the health claims made for coconut oil are “absolute nonsense.” Considering how abundant those health claims have been the past few years, there’s a good chance that you are feeling a bit confused about coconut oil! Even though many articles and nutritionists have recommended coconut oil, is it bad for you after all? Should you avoid it completely?
Last November, before this latest round of coconut oil arguments burst onto the nutritional scene, I addressed some similar questions here on Ask Dr. Maxwell in my article, “Coconut Oil Controversy! Is it Good or Bad for You?”. That earlier controversy was sparked by a 2017 American Heart Association recommendation that coconut oil should generally be avoided due to its high saturated fat content. Coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter or red meat. So the AHA, in its continuous quest to lower the risk of heart disease, reminded everyone that it’s good to lower your intake of saturated fat. One way to do this is by avoiding coconut oil.
Is Coconut Oil Really Poison Though?
This newest round of controversy and confusion surrounding coconut oil stems from Professor Michel’s comments calling it “pure poison.” She’s not advocating for limiting it in your diet due to levels of saturated fat, she stated that it’s one of the very worst things you could eat.
There have already been a number of rebuttals to these comments. A cardiologist in England, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, called her claims “entirely false” and has demanded that she retract them, according to The Daily Mail. He cites research that indicates coconut oil helps reduce LDL cholesterol (the kind you don’t want to have.) The same research shows that while olive oil helps increase HDL cholesterol (the kind you do want), coconut oil increases it by a higher percentage.
The Indian Agricultural Ministry has joined Dr. Malhotra’s call that Dr. Michel retract her statements, saying they are unsubstantiated and that there are thousands of scholarly articles “indicating the benefits of using coconut oil,” according to Food Navigator – Asia.
In the New York Times, “Proponents of coconut oil point out that it is rich in phytochemicals that have healthful antioxidant properties.”
These are just a handful of the rebuttals that were immediately made following Dr. Michel’s lecture.
Coconut Oil, Like “Everything” in Moderation
You’ve probably heard the saying “Everything in moderation” and it’s especially apt regarding coconut oil. There is some research indicating that this oil has health benefits. It’s also an oil that has been used around the world for hundreds of years.
On the other hand, it is high in saturated fat. It’s a good idea to keep your intake of saturated fats low to prevent cardiovascular disease.
If you enjoy the taste of coconut oil, rest easy. It definitely isn’t a poison and you don’t have to avoid it altogether. Focus on getting the majority of your dietary fats from healthier choices like cold-pressed olive and walnut oils, while adding the unique flavor of coconut oil on occasion. Just make sure it’s also the cold-pressed, organic version.