For certain health food stores and wellness sites, it is the panacea that helps everything from bad hair and mental sleepiness to obesity and hemorrhoids. But the carefully crafted image of coconut oil as a remedy for many ailments has been utterly rejected by a Harvard professor.
Karin Michels, an epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan public health school, scorned the superfood movement and mentioned the craze for coconut oil, calling the substance "one of the worst things you can eat" that was as good for well-being as "pure poison".
Michels made her remarks in a recent lecture entitled "Coconut oil and other nutritional errors" at the University of Freiburg, where she holds a second academic position as director of the Institute for Prevention and Tumor Epidemiology. The speech, released in German, has now been viewed almost a million times on YouTube.
Michels based her warning on the high proportion of saturated fat in coconut oil, which is known to increase the levels of so-called LDL cholesterol, and thus the risk of cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil contains more than 80% saturated fat, more than double the amount in lard and 60% more than in beef that drips.
Last year the American Heart Association assessed the evidence about coconut oil among other foods. While three quarters of the American population considered coconut oil to be healthy, the review found that only 37% of nutritionists agreed. The authors have attributed the gap in perception to the marketing of coconut oil in the popular press. "Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD and has no known beneficial effects, we do not recommend the use of coconut oil", concluded the review.
Other organizations have issued similar warnings. "Coconut oil can be included in the diet, but because it is rich in saturated fats, it should only be included in small amounts and as part of a healthy, balanced diet," said the British Nutrition Foundation. "To date, there is no strong scientific evidence for the health benefits of eating coconut oil."
Despite the advice promotions from health food stores such as Holland and Barrett and celebrity approvals from Gwyneth Paltrow and others have helped boost British sales of coconut oil surge from around £ 1 million to £ 16.4 million over the last four years, according to the consumer research group Kantar. In the US, the sale of coconut oil in 2015 seems to have reached a peak of $ 229 million, according to the market research firm Spins.
"Coconut oil is about 86% saturated fat, about a third more saturated fat than butter," said Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation. "We know that diets rich in saturated fats are associated with increased non-HDL cholesterol in the blood and high cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and strokes."
"It has been speculated that some of the saturated fat that is present in coconut oil may be better for us than other saturated fats, but so far there is not enough good quality research to give us a definitive answer. know, replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats such as vegetable oil, olive oil and sunflower oil and their spreads has proven to be an effective way to lower LDL cholesterol levels, so this would be a healthier choice.
"For the time being, if you like the taste of coconut oil, then, just like with butter, it is nice to use it every now and then, but it is best to limit yourself to small amounts and use unsaturated oils as a daily choice. "