Oh, the touchy subject – The coconut oil!
Yes, for most of the Malayalees out there, coconut and the oil from coconut is a staple food. Coconut and coconut oil is used in almost every single curry, food etc. And to make things difficult for the poor Malayalam speaking jantha, there are a lot of controversial & contradicting reports about coconut oil
In 2018 September, at a conference in Germany, the Harvard university professor Ms. Karin Michels gave a lecture on nutrition, where she called coconut oil “pure poison” and “one of the worst foods you can eat”
But on the same breath, we also have our very own Prof Dr BM Hegde – the renowned cardiologist and a Padma Bhushan awardee who vehemently lectured about the health benefits of coconut oil.
Why is coconut oil vilified?
Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat which is claimed to raise the risk of heart attack or stroke as they raise the bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and reduces the good cholesterol (HDL). 100 gms of coconut oil has nearly 87 grams of saturated fat, and saturated fat is long believed to be bad for heart and creating clogging in the arteries and heart attacks
According to a study conducted by the Indian council of medical research (ICMR), Public health foundation of India (PHFI) and Institute for health metrics and evaluation (IHME), Kerala has the highest incidence of the heart diseases and heart attacks across the entire country. However, a point to note is that this trend has only increased from 7.1% of total death due to heart diseases in 1990, to 12.2% in 2016 (inspite of increased intake of vegetable and other purportedly healthy alternatives)
The other side of the story!
Let me start with some empirical evidences
1) For over thousands of years, we Indians have been having our own desi ghee, butter, mustard oil, coconut oil etc – all rich in saturated fatty acids. The heart attack rates then, where much lesser than the current levels inspite of increased use of other types of oils in the recent past.
2) Our neighbouring Sri Lanka too has been consuming coconut oil for thousands of years. Until 1980s Coronary artery disease rate in srilanka was the lowest in the world (i.e. only 1 out of every 10,000). However, over the past decade processed vegetable oils have replaced coconut oil and heart disease rates have only increased
3) Many of the coconut oil haters promote vegetable oils that claims to protect the heart, but are highly processed with a lot of chemicals. Besides, many of these vegetable oils are high in omega 6 (promoting inflammation) while low in omega 3 (anti-inflammatory)
4) Many recent studies and research articles claim that there is not conclusive evidence than claims saturated fat as the villain. Read the research article here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648
5) A study done specifically in coconut oil consuming Kerala did not find any conclusive evidence linking heart attack rates to coconut oil consumption – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9316363
Coconut oil has a few benefits too!
Among all this controversy, coconut oil has many health benefits and let me highlight them for you –
- Coconut oil has anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial property
- Coconut has antioxidants called phenols that helps in repairing damaged cells and also neutralising free-radicals in the human body. It is also abundant in anti depressant agents (Read the research article here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4247320/ )
- Coconut oil has been successfully proven to reduce NAFLD (hepatosteatosis – Non alcoholic fatty liver) in rats. Read the research article here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28862329
- Coconut oil is touted to be the best source for treating skin diseases and as well as Alzheimer’s diseases
- Coconut oil helps in making health hair and it penetrates better. Read research article here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11413497
- Saturated fat is divided into various types, dependong on the number of carbon atoms in it. Majority of the saturated fat in coconut oil is the 12-carbon variety, called lauric acid. Both, coconut oil and mother’s milk contains sodium monolaurate – monolauric acid and helps to improve the immunity.
If you are interested in a bit more scientific article and explanation, read the article by Dr Hegde here – http://bmhegde.com/hegde/articles.php?article_id=37
Looking at individual types of fats and other nutrient groups such as carbohydrates etc to analyse the effect on cardio vascular diseases, in isolation could be misleading. Most often when people cut down on fats they tend to eat more bread, cold cereal and other refined carbohydrates that can also be bad for cardiovascular health.
All said and done, if we were to list down a few leading causes of heart diseases are –
- Poor lifestyle habits (excess calories, low metabolism, lack of physical activity, poor body composition etc)
- Lack of sleep, rest & recovery
- Excessive strain.
Word of caution – The macro nutrient fat is important for nutrient absorption and hormonal balance. However, fat is also laden with a lot of calories – more than twice the amount of protein and carbs. It is hence important to be cognizant about this fact, since one could over exceed his/her calorie intake very easily through excess dietary fat.
Also, please be aware that ‘Nutrition’ is a science! And any field of science is meant to go through changes, exceptions etc based on our broader understanding, through new studies and research and as new empirical evidence arrives.
While the world continue to debate if saturated fat is healthy or unhealthy, and if coconut oil is a villain – let me advice you this! If you are physically active and also has a reasonably good body composition (lesser body fat, higher lean body mass) then you need not worry about coconut oil!
What ever gloats your boat! Peace out! 🙂