Co­conut oil; healthy or not?

The Star Early Edition - - INTERNATIONAL -

ONCE hailed as a “su­per­food” and known as a di­etary and skin dar­ling, now it seems the health ben­e­fits of co­conut oil have been flipped up­side down.

This af­ter the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion (AHA) re­leased a jaw­drop­ping re­port, warn­ing of the dan­gers of us­ing the oil as it “raised bad choles­terol” in the same way as other foods high in sat­u­rated fats like but­ter and beef.

The re­ac­tion to the re­port caused a so­cial me­dia frenzy, with some dub­bing the rag­ing de­bate on whether co­conut oil was healthy or not, “Co­conutGate”.

The con­tro­ver­sial “pres­i­den­tial ad­vi­sory” re­port has been widely crit­i­cised as ped­dling mis­in­for­ma­tion and con­fu­sion by health ex­perts, as well as be­ing fraught with con­flict of in­ter­est as some mem­bers of the writ­ing panel re­ceived grants from gi­ant phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies who pro­duced med­i­ca­tions to lower choles­terol.

Lo­cally, di­eti­tian and ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist at the Heart and Stroke Foun­da­tion, Gabriel Ek­steen, agreed with the AHA rec­om­men­da­tion against reg­u­lar use of the sat­u­rated oil.

“The di­rect ef­fect of co­conut oil on heart health and the many other health ben­e­fits claimed have not been stud­ied. Co­conut oil is pre­dom­i­nantly made up of sat­u­rated fats and the lim­ited re­search avail­able con­firms that it in­creases blood LDL choles­terol,” he said.

“Any oil can de­te­ri­o­rate with long stor­age and when ex­posed to high tem­per­a­tures, re­sult­ing in an in­crease in harm­ful com­pounds in the oil. Co­conut oil is some­what more sta­ble, but the im­pact this may have dur­ing reg­u­lar home cook­ing and stor­age, and thereby on hu­man health, has not been prop­erly eval­u­ated,” said Ek­steen.

AHA had “thor­oughly” re­viewed the avail­able ev­i­dence to reach its con­clu­sion that sub­sti­tut­ing sat­u­rated fat with polyun­sat­u­rated fat re­duced LDL choles­terol and the risk of heart dis­ease, he said.

“Our diet should be rich in fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, and low fat dairy. Red meat, pro­cessed meats, added su­gars, re­fined starchy foods and salt should be lim­ited.”

Oth­ers don’t quite agree, cit­ing that the AHA’s main con­clu­sions were based on only four tri­als, with the lat­est one done in 1971 – mak­ing them “an­cient” by the stan­dards of nu­tri­tional science. The lat­est panel of re­searchers was also crit­i­cised as it in­cluded mem­bers whose re­search was funded by the Cal­i­for­nia Wal­nut

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