I follow a few health and fitness accounts on social media and coconut oil is an ingredient that is used in abundance for the last few years. It’s in smoothies, eaten raw, baked vegan goods, used as moisturizer, hair strengthener, the list goes on and on. Coconut oil has become synonymous with “healthy” and it’s a de facto word to entice the ingredient conscious consumer. But why exactly is coconut oil considered healthy and is it all that’s hyped to be?
The Claim and Current State of Research
Coconut oil is supposed to be a heart-healthy oil since it increases good cholesterol even though it’s high in saturated fat (90%). However, according to Dr. Willet M.D. from the Harvard School of Public Health, studies on coconut oil and heart health are based on short-term studies and we are still unclear about the effects of coconut oil on heart disease. Moreover, other studies have claimed that coconut oil may increase bad cholesterol levels as well.
Currently, we just don’t have enough information to prove that coconut is healthy for the heart or not. Dr Willet recommends using coconut oil “sparingly” and switch to oils with unsaturated fat (olive).
No Need to Be frustrated
With inconclusive studies, this means that researchers are working to provide us with a clearer answer regarding coconut oil. In the meantime, there’s no need to be frustrated.My Story
I remember when olive oil became the holy grail of oils. I got into the bandwagon until I started paying more attention to smoke points. Like any cooking ingredient, the type of oil I use depends on its purpose. Currently, I keep grape seed oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, toasted sesame oil, and olive oil. I usually use the first two for high heat sautéing and pan frying, coconut oil for baking, and the last two oils for dressings. The key here is variety, balance, and purpose.
Healthy Alternatives vs. Health Foods
I also make a distinction between “healthier alternatives” with “health foods”. Just because something is a healthier alternative, it doesn’t mean it’s good for me. In fact, Forks Over Knives has a section on “why avoid oil?”.
Vegetable oils may be healthier than butter, but that doesn’t make them health foods. Unlike the Whole Foods from which they’re pressed (olives, nuts, avocados, etc.), oils are highly refined and contain more calories per gram than any other food we know. In addition, all oils, even olive oil, have a negative impact on blood vessels and promote heart disease.Forks Over Knives | Fall 2018
So even if coconut oil has some heart benefits, it doesn’t mean I have to actively include it in my diet. It’s still a heavily processed food. I don’t feel as if I’m missing out if I’m not using coconut oil.
No Dogma, No Drama
I find that a non-dogmatic approach to ingredients and food choices provides me with a balanced diet that keeps me healthy and happy. When I see a food trend, I take the PTR approach: Pause, Think, Reflect/Research.
As one always looking for a healthier lifestyle , I’ll try some fads, but I ask myself these questions:
- Is this a healthy alternative or a healthy food?
- How heavily processed is it?
- Are there any preservatives?
Are there any food trends you have tried and realized later that they don’t live up to the hype? Let us know!