Confused about coconut products? You’re not the only one.
Here is a plant-based product – high in saturated fat. Is it as damaging as saturated fat from animal products?
Yes and No.
Read on to discover the effects of consuming each coconut product.
Coconut oil was first brought to the public eye by a man called Bruce Fife in his 2002 book, “The Coconut Oil Miracle”. Mr Fife stated in his book that coconut oil “can help weight loss for the obese and weight gain for the over-skinny as well as reduce heart disease and many, many other health problems: it may prevent and even reverse all sorts of things from inflammation to infections. And allergies. And skin conditions, including fungus.” A true miracle, it seems.
Mr Fife’s credentials: before writing his book on coconut oil (and another subsequent half dozen more on the same topic) he had published books on ventriloquism, balloon-making for children as well as juggling. Since those child-friendly days, he seems to have become a naturopath, which lends a little more science to his claim.
But what does the science actually say about this ‘miracle cure’?
First, the good news – any of the benefits purported to be found in eating coconut oil (or cooking with it) have only ever been found in animal studies (tests on animals) or in petri dishes. Not on humans. So you can cook your dog’s food in it without hurting his heart.
And just as Mr Fife says in his book – coconut oil does indeed help control fungal overgrowth (Candida) – in mice! But that was only discovered this year (2015), and it hasn’t yet been trialled in humans.
Second, the bad news: a study in 1998, this time on humans, found that the effect of coconut oil on blood plasma, lipoproteins and laposterol levels were the same as for butter – VERY BAD NEWS. In other words, coconut oil is not good for the arteries. I couldn’t find any newer studies about its effects on heart disease.
It’s interesting to note that people living in the tropics who consume a lot of coconut oil seem to avoid heart disease – while eating their traditional starch-based diet (yams, taro). But when they move toward a Western diet, and continue to eat coconut oil, they achieve the same heart disease rates as we have in the West; coconut oil provides no protection against the standard Western diet.
Another bit of bad news: the nutritional profile of 1 TBSP coconut oil is
- no cholesterol (good),
- no sodium/salt (good),
- no sugar (also good), but also
- no fibre,
- no Vit C,
- no Vit A,
- no calcium,
- no iron. What’s in it then?
- It’s virtually nothing but FAT! 14g of fat, that is 116 calories.
There’s next to no nutrition in coconut oil, and a heck of a lot of calories for no nutrition! Fat calories get stored as fat – we only need fat for the nutritious elements on board. Coconut oil has none.
I’d rather leave it for the dogs and mice – where at least it has found to have some benefits in all those animal experiments!
It’s in so many south-east asian curries – but is it healthy?
No – its high saturated fat content makes it as damaging for the arteries as a fatty beef burger. That’s all.
Best to avoid it.
But how do the Asians cope?
Traditionally, they had no cans of coconut milk – they grated the coconut meat and put it in the curries.
Whole coconut meat, fresh and dried
Whole coconut meat lowers cholesterol. Of course it does – it contains fibre, and fibre traps cholesterol released with the bile and pulls it out of the body. So the fibre in the whole product mitigates the negatives of the watery part, the milk. That includes flakes (watch for added sugars), desiccated, shredded and coconut flour – as well as fresh coconut meat.
The trendy sports drink – with a nutritional profile like blood plasma – that can be substituted in a blood transfusion emergency apparently, according to one study. I’d check with the paramedics first though!
Here are the nutrition details: it does contain some minerals in a 1 cup serving – but a fairly high sodium content! Next to no calories – and it is harmless health-wise. It causes bloating for some people though. Drink it if you like it, if sodium is not an issue for you.
That’s it for coconut products. Here’s the summary for HUMAN consumption:
- Oil – bad
- milk, worse
- meat/dried – fine
- water – harmless but may cause stomach upsets for some.