Beware Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is high in saturated fat and should not be used as regular cooking oil despite being the “trendy thing”, the New Zealand Heart Foundation says.

The foundation commissioned food industry consultant Dr Laurence Eyres to review existing research on coconut oil and its effect on heart health after what it deemed was “widespread misinformation” about the benefits.

Coconut oil had been heavily marketed over recent years as a “super-food” but Eyres said the health claims did not stack up.

“Traditionally, coconut oil hasn’t been recommended because it is extremely high in saturated fat. This advice remains, despite the large number of marketing claims to the contrary,” he said.

Switching to coconut oil was likely to lead to an increase in cholesterol levels and could potentially increase the risk of coronary heart disease, Eyres said.

Research often quoted to support the use of coconut oil was largely based on animal studies or interpreted from research on medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oils.

But the triglycerides in coconut oil could not be classed as MCTs, meaning the research quoted was not relevant, he said.

Heart Foundation national nutrition adviser Delvina Gorton said coconut oil was a better choice than butter and occasional use was not a problem, but regular use was not advised, based on the available evidence.

“It’s the trendy thing. It’s also very expensive, so people are spending a lot of money when they don’t need to.

“There are healthier oils for people to be using for their hearts.”

Those wanting to keep their heart healthy should follow a diet based on minimally-processed foods and include plenty of vegetables, fruit, some nuts, legumes, whole grains, seafood and lean meats, reduced-fat dairy and healthy oils, such as cold-pressed olive, avocado or canola oils, she said.

Blue Coconut chief executive John Drew said he had seen a huge increase in demand for coconut oil since starting his Little River business four years ago.

“The popularity is down to the fact it works,” he said.

Consumers were doing their own research on the benefits of coconut oil by reading studies and sharing their own experiences online, Drew said.

“[Eyres is] using old science and refuses to even recognise newer studies that have turned the whole saturated fat debate on its head.

“We need saturated fat in our body for cell function.”

Drew’s partner, Canterbury GP Victoria Flight, said she researched coconut oil as part of a nutrition fellowship with the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine and would not promote something that did not stack up scientifically.

“I think the evidence is increasingly strong that coconut is offering benefits that we can’t get from other oils.

“It’s very good for our brains.”

Flight disagreed with Eyres’ definition of MCT oils and said the Heart Foundation was “very conservative” in its views on coconut oil and saturated fats.

Nicole Mathewson

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