In recent days a controversy broke out after Karin Michels, director of the Institute for Prevention and Epidemiology of Tumors at the University of Freiburg and professor at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, was assured of a conference that is Coconut Oil. "one of the worst foods that can be eaten", it is called "pure poison" because of the large amount of saturated fats it contains.
Michels said that these fats can clog arteries, increase the risk of coronary heart disease and increase cholesterol levels.
A few months ago, Dr. Michael Mosley researched the properties of coconut oil for the BBC and this is what he thought.
The sale of coconut oil is in some parts in the air, powered by recommendations from celebrities and claims that if you drink it, everything from bad breath to digestive disorders.
It is said that the actress Angelina Jolie takes a spoonful of breakfast almost every morning, while the model Miranda Kerr says that it not only adds salads and smoothies, but also used to cook and put on the skin.
But all these claims about the health benefits of coconut oil are received with a lot of skepticism by the scientific community, which it regards as an unhealthy fat.
In fact, it has one very high saturated fat content (86%), more than butter (51%) or butter (39%).
The reasons why foods rich in saturated fats are considered unhealthy are because ingesting them leads to an increase in the number of low density lipoprotein (LDL, for its acronym in English), in the blood, which is popularly known as "bad cholesterol", associated with blockage of the arteries and an increased risk of heart disease.
But on the other hand, saturated fats also tend to be the "good cholesterol"caused by the presence of high density lipoprotein (HDL, for its abbreviation in English), which has an opposite effect: they prevent the blockage of the arteries because they help to eliminate the bad cholesterol, and transport it to the liver for its excretion.
From a technical point of view, it is possible that a particular food can increase the general cholesterol level and does not harm the heart.
Will coconut oil be a superfood against cholesterol, as some claim, or just a dangerous craze?
There are hardly any studies
Surprisingly, so far there have been almost no studies in humans that have scientifically tested the presumed goodness of coconut oil.
The BBC program team Trust me II'm a doctor He came into contact with two prominent academics from the University of Cambridge, Kay-Tee Khaw and Nita Forouhi.
We collect 94 volunteers between 50 and 75 years old, free from diabetes and heart disease, and we have developed a study to find out what effects it has on cholesterol levels to consume different types of fat.
The participants were randomly assigned to three groups. Every day for four weeks, the first 50 grams of extra virgin coconut oil must be consumed, the equivalent of three full tablespoons.
The second group would do the same with the same amount of extra virgin olive oil, an important element in the Mediterranean diet, which is considered very healthy.
And the third was to consume 50 grams of unsalted butter daily.
Volunteers could consume these fats in any way, as long as they did it every day for four weeks.
We told them that they would eat extra 450 calories per day, which would make them arrive.
Before the start of this high-fat diet, we took blood samples to establish their basic health indicators, with an emphasis on the levels of good and bad cholesterol.
The reason why both values are important is that in order to calculate the risk of a heart attack not only the total cholesterol level is taken into account, but it is divided by the HDL, the good cholesterol.
The British Public Health Service (NHS) suggests that the resulting number should be lower than 4.
What were the results of our experiment?
The surprise of coconut oil
As expected, those who consumed butter they had an average increase of their bad cholesterol of 10%, comparable to the average increase of 5% of the good.
Those who consumed olive oil They saw a small reduction, although not very significant, in the level of bad cholesterol and an increase of 5% in the good. So this fat also lived up to the expectations of his reputation, as a good food for the heart.
But the big surprise came with the results of the coconut oil.
Not only was there no increase in bad cholesterol, which we expected to find, but there was also a large increase in HDL levels, the good cholesterol, up to 15%.
These results suggest that the participants who had consumed the coconut oil In fact, they would have reduced their risk of developing a heart condition or stroke.
How is it possible?
I asked Professor Khaw, who was surprised by these results, why she thought it had happened.
"I have no clear idea," he said.
"Maybe it's because the most important saturated fat in coconut oil is it lauric acid and this acid can have a biological influence on the lipids of the blood that differ from those of other fatty acids. The evidence for this comes mainly from animals, so it is fascinating to see this effect on people, "he said.
So, do we have to accept coconut oil as a healthy food?
"I think decisions about whether or not to consume a particular oil depend not only on what the effect on health is," he said.
"This is just a study and it would be irresponsible to suggest a change in dietary recommendations based on a single experiment, even if it is done properly."
Indeed, this study was very short and compared to olive oil, research on coconut oil is still in the earliest phase.
So every claim that says coconut oil is a superfood is early.
But if, like me, you enjoy the taste of coconut oil in the sauce curryThere seems to be no good reason to stop it.
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