Last week the biggest internet story in the health field was the news that coconut oil is supposedly bad for you. This wasn’t just the usual throwaway fodder posted by breathless bloggers, but was picked up by respected news outlets. Shame that they didn’t do their homework before hopping aboard the latest nonsensical nutrition bandwagon.
First off, you would’ve thought that we’d put the outdated and discredited “fat is bad” narrative to the sword by now. A large body of research shows that ketogenic and other high fat diets are effective in minimizing the number and severity of seizures in people with epilepsy and other brain disorders, aiding athletic performance and recovery and, when replacing sugar-derived calories, in reducing the incidence of metabolic, cardiovascular and digestive conditions. Meanwhile, low fat diets that are high in sugar are at the root of many of the health issues that Big Sugar tried to pin on fat for decades (see Gary Taubes’s book The Case Against Sugar).
But yet here we are in mid-2017 with irresponsible stories perpetuating myths that should have been relegated to the bygone low-fat age. It’s not just the fact that this study is bashing coconut, but that it’s promoting vegetable oils as supposedly “healthy.” In her outstanding book Deep Nutrition, Dr. Cate Shanahan makes the case against veggie oils, particularly the mutations that occur in them when they’re heated, which potentially increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and many of the other leading killers in Western society. Not to mention, as her website states, “oxidative stress that leads to impaired cognitive function at every age.”
Another issue with the “coconut bad/vegetable oil’s good” story is its take on cholesterol. As Bulletproof Coffee founder Dave Asprey pointed out when reacting to the coconut kerfuffle on his Facebook page, “there’s no cholesterol in coconut oil” and while the lauric acid in coconut can be harmful in high quantities, eating plenty of real vegetables (not the highly processed oils mentioned a moment ago) protects against ill effects. Then there’s the inconvenient truth that, contrary to the report, the kind of fat found in coconut is actually good for your heart.
The story’s headline also states that “coconut oil is as bad for you as red meat and butter.” Now if you ate a lot of farm-raised red meat derived from animals fed a pesticide-laced, GMO corn diet, injected with antibiotics, steroids, growth hormones and who knows what else then sure, you’re not going to be the healthiest person around. But if, on the other hand, you consume organic, grass fed red meat in moderation, you’re eating a food that’s a rich source of cardiovascular health-promoting omega 3 fatty acids, high in muscle-building protein and loaded with vitamins and minerals. And if your butter is also grass-fed and organic, you’re going to be getting heart health-boosting CLA, bone-protecting vitamin K and butyrate, which improves the efficiency of energy production and has anti-inflammatory effects. So again, the “coconut, butter and red meat are bad for you” line is as lazy as it is scientifically shaky.
So if you regularly eat coconut, use coconut oil in cooking or supplement with coconut-derived MCT oil, you’re not going to trash your health (same goes for organic, grass-fed red meat). And if you don’t consume any of these, don’t be scared off. As long as you eat coconut in moderation, you’ll be just fine. Low-fat zealots be darned.