So I love a tasty, foodie “band wagon” just as much as the next person but I’m going to have to bust out on my own here and say, Coconut oil… WTF… as in, Why That Fat!

I obviously don’t get it!

I know that my comments are going to be unpopular and I am not qualified to have an opinion, but I have done a lot of research and here I go anyway.  Feel free to comment below and if it gets too nasty I will simply delete.

Coconut Oil – Myth or Mystique? Is coconut oil Bad News? Why does The Heart Foundation advise against the use of coconut oil.

Saturated Fat

So I can see cardiologists everywhere shaking their heads and wondering who ever suggested that a switch to coconut oil would be a good idea? We were all travelling along quite nicely using olive oil which is a monounsaturated fat and then suddenly coconut oil was touted as the next best thing after quinoa and green smoothies.

But is it? Or have we been hijacked by a positive PR spin and heavy marketing?

Have you ever noticed your jar of coconut oil in the pantry on a moderately cool day? It solidifies, just like the fat from fried sausages, bacon, roast lamb or butter.  The reason? Like those other foods, coconut oil has the dubious honour of being one of very few plant based oils which is a saturated fat.  Not only is it a saturated fat, but we are talking 92% saturated fat!

Now please don’t get me wrong, I love my saturated fats. I will happily devour a delicious cube of layered pork belly, or a piece of crispy duck skin. However, I understand these are “sometimes” foods, and not a healthy lifestyle choice.

What I don’t particularly like, is the trend to replace oils that are relatively harmless such as olive oil, nut oils or sesame oil, with coconut oil and then declare the resulting dish as “healthy”. A recipe that uses a cup of coconut oil in a snack instead of a cup of another fat is not miraculously healthy. It has merely had the oil type changed. Depending on the oil prescribed in the initial recipe this change could constitute a reasonable substitution, a health neutral substitution or a poor health choice.

Nutrient Value of Oil?

Edible oils and fats are calorie dense and nutrient poor. The contain little (if any) vitamins and nutrients.  The structure of fats from various food sources varies significantly so it’ important to understand the type of fat you are choosing in your diet, when you determine the health value of a food.

While some edible fats from plant sources, such as olive oil and flax seed oil, are considered healthy because they are monosaturated, they are all high in calories. All plant oils have about 120 calories per tablespoon so they should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Why Do We Care About the Type of Fat?

Saturated Fat increases the LDL blood cholesterol which is associated with an increase in heart disease. The Heart foundation advises a limit of 7% saturated fat in a healthy diet.

Saturated Fats

Saturated Fats

Saturated is usually found in food such as animal products with visible fat, butter, cream and in plant foods like palm and coconut oil.

In a healthy diet we aim to reduce our intake of unnecessary saturated fats such as cake, chips, butter, lard and cream, coconut oil.

While still consuming adequate levels of foods which contain saturated fat and have good nutritional value such as red meat, cheese, milk and coconut flesh.  Coconuts are high in fibre and do contain nutritients, but also saturated fats.  Ccoconut oil is just high in saturated fat.

Monounsaturated Fat helps to decrease the LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and helps to increase the HDL (good) cholesterol. If we need to use oil in cooking monounsaturated fats are the best choice as they are stable when heated and do not increase LDL cholesterol. An example of some mono saturated fats are olive oil, macadamia, and avocado.

Mono Saturated Fats - Avocado

Mono Saturated Fats – Avocado

Macadamia nut oil has the highest percentage (about 83%) of monounsaturated fat of any edible oil. But, it is a mono saturated so it aids the body in decreasing the bad cholesterol and increasing levels of the heart protecting good cholesterol.

Olives and Olive Oil - Mono Saturated Oils

Olives and Olive Oil – Mono Saturated Oils

Polyunsaturated Fats  in food helps to decrease the LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and helps to increase the HDL (good) cholesterol like the mono saturated fats. There is evidence polyunsaturated fats in food may help lower cholesterol slightly better than monosaturated fats.  Polyunsaturated oils however can have a tendency to change structure when heated.  These oils may not be the best choice for cooking at high temperatures.

Salmon - Poly Unsaturated Oil

Salmon – Polyunsaturated Oil

Polyunsaturated fats are found in seafood, vegetable oils and some nut oils.

Examples of Foods containing Polyunsaturated fats

Examples of Foods containing Polyunsaturated fats

Trans Fats  behave like saturated fats in the body raising LDL blood cholesterol levels and in turn increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease.  They also lower HDL cholesterol, so this makes them even more problematic in the diet.

Trans Fats in Foods

Trans Fats in Foods

Thankfully Trans fats are rare in nature and are found mainly in nutrient empty processed foods such as packaged potato chips and and pastries. This means you can safely exclude Trans Fats from your diet without missing out on any essential nutrients.

To further clarify the fats Issue (hehe joke… clarify…)

To further clarify, a cookie made with butter is not inheriently better or worse than a cookie made with coconut oil. Whether you use 250gm of butter in the recipe or 250gm of coconut oil you are still adding the same calories and a lot of saturated fat. So don’t feel pressure to change your fat of choice from butter to coconut oil. There is no real evidence that one saturated fat is better for your health than another saturated fat. The only differences between the two is taste, the cost of the ingredients and personal preference.

Donut Cookies - Snickerdoodles

Donut Cookies – Snickerdoodles

Fat Table

  • Coconut Oil 92% Saturated Fat – 6% Monounsaturated Fat
  • Typical Aussie Margarine 20% Saturated Fat – 14% Monounsaturated Fat –  60% Polyunsaturated 
  • Butter 66% Saturated Fats – 30% Monounsaturated Fat
  • Lard  41% Saturated Fat – 14% Monounsaturated Fat
  • Olive Oil 14% Saturated Fat – 77% Monounsaturated Fat
  • Macadamia Oil 14% Saturated Fat – 83% Monounsaturated Fat

Something I have noticed recently which disappoints me is the tendency of some coconut oil users to look down there nose at users of other fats.

I don’t like to feel judged for my food choices. Yes I may choose a good old fashioned, fat filled cookie occasionally, but I know it’s not a healthy substitute to a more nutritious meal, its simply a treat. Some health “guru’s” give me the impression they actually believe their alternative sweets are nutritionally important in a diet?

There will always be people who want to tout the next miracle food.  There will always be people that will look down on the eating habits of others.  If you are looking for a heathy diet there are professionals that dedicate their lives to the science of food. Dieticians, cardiologists and scientist.

Alternatively there are others who latch on to Chinese whispers and before you know it you have a cure for all that ails in an ancient herb that has been recently rediscovered.

I have also heard people say they have switched to coconut oil for weight loss.  This is also misguided. The simple science of weight management:

Body energy requirements = A

If you exceed “A” you gain weight.

If you don’t meet your energy needs you lose weight.

If you consume in excess of your calories needs you will still put on weight. It doesn’t matter if your consumption has been only coconut oil and green smoothies, you will still put on weight and not meet your body’s nutritional needs.

Organic Coconut Oil

Organic Coconut Oil

At best coconut oil is a saturated fat which has people divided.  Everyone agrees that it contains high level of saturated fat.  The Heart Foundation and The Dieticians Associations say to avoid coconut oil.

“Health Guru’s” say although coconut oil is a saturated fat it has “hidden” health benefits. So far no health benefits or mystical powers have been confirmed scientifically, so it remains as just another saturated fat. I have a bottle in my pantry, it’s used “sometimes” when I really need it for a recipe. It is no better or worse than any other saturated fat. I will use coconut oil sparingly, if I think it will improve the results of the dish I am cooking.

Useful links

Research for this article has come from a number of sites which I have referenced below. These sites have a lot of other interesting facts relating to fats and oils in foods and cooking.

Better Health Victoria 

The Heart Foundation

The Dieticians Association of Australia

AusFood News

New Zealand Heart Foundation

So readers, is this article controversial?  What do you think, coconut oil, myth or mystical?