New Straits Times
Eat in moderation
“As one tablespoon of coconut oil contain 115 calories, use it occasionally. Using too much coconut oil is not a good way to cut down on calorie intake.” Michelle Gan
Gan says support for coconut oil’s health benefits can be traced back to the work of Marie-Pierre St-Onge, a professor of nutrition at Columbia University in 2003.
St-Onge had found that eating and cooking with medium chain fatty acids — a type of molecule found in coconut oil — can help dieting adults to burn fat.
But as St-Onge pointed out, coconut oil has only 16 per cent medium chain fatty acids. The participants in her studies had received 100 per cent medium chain fatty acids, a custom-made mixture.
Gan says this research has been seized upon by health food marketers and bloggers. Dieting blogs and websites praise coconut oil as a “fat-burning diet miracle” and dietary supplements containing the oil advertise their supposed weight-loss benefits on the label.
“Basically, data from the original research on medium chain fatty acids has been extrapolated very liberally. To date, most studies done on coconut oil have been either animal studies or small case control or observational studies, which are not sufficient to support and make a consensus on the claims about coconut oil.”
Gan says reducing saturated fat alone, without considering what it is replaced with, may not be beneficial. Evidence demonstrates that reducing saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat improves cardiovascular risk factors and reduces the risk of heart disease; replacing it with wholegrains improves some cardiovascular risk factors and reduces the risk of heart disease but not to the same extent as unsaturated fat; and replacing it with refined carbohydrate does not improve cardiovascular risk and does not reduce the risk of heart disease.
On the other hand, diets high in trans-fats, regardless of whether they are accompanied by other beneficial food sources, are consistently linked to cardiovascular risk and to heart disease. As such, unsaturated fat is preferred to saturated fat and both are preferred to trans-fat.
Gan says although coconut oil does not have healthy properties, it is possible to include it in your diet as long as it is consumed in moderation. Just like other saturated fats, coconut oil should be limited to between seven and 10 per cent of total calories.
“As one tablespoon of coconut oil contain 115 calories, use it occasionally. Using too much coconut oil is not a good way to cut down on calorie intake.”
A better choice is virgin coconut oil as the manufacturing process allows the oil to retain the scent and taste of coconut, as well as high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols. Virgin coconut oil has been found to contain up to seven times higher concentrations of polyphenols than refined coconut oil, says Gan.
“But even if the coconut oil you are using is virgin, the saturated fat effect outweighs any beneficial effects of the antioxidants. In short, unsaturated fats are preferred to both refined and virgin coconut oils.
“The bottom line is, no one food alone will make you healthy. It’s important to recognise that the entire picture is what matters. The combined evidence suggests that improving our whole eating pattern, not just altering one nutrient is what’s required to promote cardiovascular health.”