We’re constantly exposed to models, health bloggers and super food chefs spruiking the benefits of coconut oil – both in the kitchen and the bathroom. It really only takes a quick scroll through Instagram for proof. And we’ve all drunk the kool-aid, adding it to our cooking and beauty regimes. Everyone of course, except for Jamie Oliver, who recently slammed people who endorse coconut oil as a diet staple.
“A lot of people say coconut oil is the best thing on the planet but it’s also one of the most saturated fats, so let’s get our facts right.” He told Body + Soul. “I’m conscious of trendy radical people endorsing things that you shouldn’t have.”
And he’s not the only one who thinks coconut oil is overrated. Nutrition Expert for the Australian Institute of Fitness, Shivaun Conn, is on Jamie’s side.
“I agree with Jamie, although coconut oil is not as bad as we once thought, it is over-hyped. There are claims that it can control weight, boost metabolism, ease digestion, improve circulation, provide stress relief, boost immunity and many more. There is little evidence to support many of these health claims.”
There are also claims that the type of saturated fat (AKA lauric acid) in coconut oil not only prevents negative effects but has a positive effect on your metabolism and cholesterol. But although it does boost good (HDL) cholesterol, it can also boost the bad type.
“Studies have shown that with the consumption of coconut oil, total cholesterol and unhealthy LDL cholesterol rises alongside the HDL cholesterol. This may make it less bad than other types of saturated fat, but not as good as other healthy unsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil.”
Coconut oil can also be the bad guy when it comes to weight gain, alongside our old enemy sugar. Shivaun explained that although fat makes a meal more satiating than sugar, fat in excess, just like sugar, “will make the overall energy content high which could lead to weight gain.”
So essentially, both sugar and fat in large amounts is a no-no. Common sense, right?
Not only should we stick to this guideline, but we should also look at who’s touting the benefits of super foods before we obey their eating rules.
“Is the person looking to gain financially from selling a product associated with the ‘health’ food? Does the person writing or speaking have university qualifications in nutritional science?”
Shivaun also pointed out that any Tom, Dick or Harry can call themselves a “Health and Nutrition Expert”.
“There is no regulation for safety of their practice. Non-accredited and inexperienced 'experts' can potentially provide unsupported, incorrect and dangerous advice.”
The moral of the story? Look for Accredited Practising Dietitians and Accredited Nutritionists.
All that being said, we shouldn’t completely dismiss coconut oil as a fad.
“There is some evidence to show coconut oil may have anti-microbial and anti-viral effects and some antioxidant properties. However, compared with the many polyphenol compounds found in extra virgin olive oil and its proven heart health benefits, coconut oil just doesn’t stack up.”
There’s also no need to stress about making the switch from coconut oil to olive oil for cooking, because as we found out, as long as you’re using a good quality olive oil (which has a smoke point of 180 degrees, which Shivaun revealed is higher than the temperature of a deep fryer!!!!) it won’t be harmful or toxic at all.
The good news? We can still use coconut oil in curries, stir-fries and baking for flavour, but overall, “there's currently not enough evidence to recommend coconut oil everyday over healthy oils such as extra virgin oilve oil."
Olive oil FTW.