New Straits Times
The coconut oil debate FocUS on wholESomE EATing
Coconut oil will have its detractors and supporters. But the key rationale seems to be to consume it in moderation, writes
WE have heard countless times that broccoli, blueberries, kale and salmon are superfoods. This is because they contain high levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well as fibre. Many believe that these nutrients can prevent cancer, stroke, heart attack and Alzheimer’s disease. They are also believed to have anti-ageing properties.
In recent years, coconut oil has been added to this list. A quick Google search will reveal thousands of links on its health benefits.
Coconut oil is said to be able to reduce the risk of heart disease, aid in weight loss, kill bacteria and viruses, boost digestion, and even help in HIV/AIDS and cancer treatment.
A The New York Times survey showed that 72 per cent of the public, compared with 37 per cent of nutritionists, believed that coconut oil was healthy.
Hollywood celebrities have also been touting the wonders of coconut oil for health and beauty.
Angelina Jolie reportedly includes virgin coconut oil in her breakfast cereal while model Miranda Kerr takes four teaspoons of coconut oil per day either in her salad, through cooking or in green tea to manage her weight.
However, the question remains whether it is really as healthy as people claim.
This is because coconut oil contains high saturated fat which is associated with high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol that increases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Last year, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a report advising against the use of coconut oil.
Gan says coconut oil also contains very little vitamins and minerals. It has only 0.66mg per 100g of vitamin E and one microgram per 100g of vitamin K.
It comprises of 99.9 per cent fatty acids — of which 91.9 per cent is saturated fatty acids, 6.4 per cent monounsaturated fatty acids, and 1.5 per cent polyunsaturated fatty acid.
Gan says coconut oil is a staple food among indigenous populations in India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Polynesia, and Melanesia.
Observational studies of indigenous populations who consume significant amounts of coconut oil have found no adverse effects with regards to cardiovascular disease risk.
Based on the diet of these populations, urban consumers who practise clean eating also believe that coconut oil is healthy. However, these people do not look at the entire diet of indigenous populations.
“Firstly, people in these populations tend to eat coconut flesh or squeezed coconut cream, not coconut oil. They are more likely to consume a traditional diet with sufficient polyunsaturated fats, limited refined carbohydrates, and fibre-containing coconut products, such as coconut flesh and flour, which is a dietary pattern more in line with what is recommended for heart health and quite different from the typical modern diet.
“As a result, these findings on indigenous people cannot be directly attributed to their consumption of coconut oil, but instead is the result of their overall dietary pattern and lifestyle,” says Gan. THE whole eating pattern, not just one nutrient, is important for overall health, says dietitian Michelle Gan Pei Chee.
This is the key message to keep in mind for healthy eating, she adds.
Gan says the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2010 promote a healthy eating pattern based on a combination of foods, chosen regularly, over time. It has been categorised into five healthy eating tips for ease of reference:
1. Enjoy a variety of wholegrains and consume five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
2. Eat a variety of healthy protein sources including fish, chicken and lean meat, legumes, nuts and seeds.
3. Prepare food using healthier cooking methods such as steaming, grilling, boiling, baking, roasting or stir-frying with less oil to reduce total fat consumption.
4. Unsaturated fat is preferred to saturated fat, both of which are preferred to trans-fat. Opt for healthy fat choices with nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and their oils for cooking.
5. Use herbs and spices to flavour food instead of adding salt.
Gan says all these will result in a diet that is naturally low in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugar and rich in wholegrains, fibre, antioxidants and unsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6).
“Eating this way will improve overall health by reducing the prevalence of diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and certain forms of cancer, ultimately decreasing the risk of morbidity and mortality.”