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Is Coconut Oil Truly Poisonous?  

Harvard Professor, Epidemiology, Dr Karin Michels calls coconut oil “Poison” in a 50 minute lecture. The YouTube video went viral some days ago gathering more than a million views and counting!

Since then, there’s a single question on everyone’s mind Is coconut oil that is supposed to have been beneficial oil truly poisonous?

There’s a thing about claiming truths on health facts, especially coming from respectable and noted professors and health professionals. It comes with a moral obligation to bring the truth out to the audience, a balanced view of the associations of products and their impact on health.

The video could be misleading and it’s important that we understand the truth behind this statement.

Highlights of Dr Karin Michels lecture:

–          Coconut oil is poison, worse than lard as it contains saturated fats that clog arteries.

–          Coconut oil increases LDL and has no known benefits.

–          Rapeseed, flaxseed, sunflower, soya bean and canola oils are healthier alternatives.

All of the above is untrue.

And let’s examine why.

**Coconut oil contains 80% saturated fatty acids, most of these being medium chain fatty acids(MCTs).This essentially means that the number of carbon atoms in the fatty acid chains vary between 6-12 in number. The smaller the number of carbon atoms the better and more quickly it is absorbed and metabolized by the body offering less chances for storage as excess fat. Hence it is beneficial for the body

For your information, the MCTs in coconut oil are lauric, capric, caprylic and caproic.

Lauric acid contributes 50% to coconut oil’s saturated fatty acid profile and since this particular fatty acid contains 12 carbon atoms it could behave like a medium chain triglyceride or it’s long chain counterpart.

So coconut oil though is great as an oil for consumption, low heat & regular cooking, specific MCT oils (containing fatty acids that have 6 and 8 carbon atoms) are superior. But when compared to ghee, coconut oil’s medium chain fatty acid profile is better. Hence by no measure can coconut oil be regarded as poison.

**Lauric acid whose composition in coconut oil is high, has antimicrobial properties and hence does wonders for the gut ridding it of unwanted bacteria and thus paving the way for the growth of beneficial bacteria. Coconut oil is therefore truly anti-inflammatory in nature.

** Rapeseed, flaxseed, sunflower, soya bean and canola oils are polyunsaturated oils (PUFA) that have 2 or more double bonds. They go through an extreme refining process involving toxic solvents and heavy industrial chemicals leaving the oils highly reactive in the body. More the double bonds, the more reactive are the oils. The PUFA reacts with oxygen causing damaging oxidative chain reactions which are responsible for arterial blocks.

Soya bean and canola oils have even been proven to have 0.56-4.2% trans fats which in now totally banned by American Health Organizations. And yet Dr Michels lecture advocates the use of the very oils the health culture is moving away from

**Again really surprised that Dr Michels makes no mention of trans fats while she damages the reputation of the highly recommended coconut oil. Trans fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils (vanaspati, dalda, margarine) are extremely damaging to the body and the heart and should have found first mention in a lecture where the merits and demerits of fats and oils had gained fervour.

**Lard which is according to the respected professor a better option than coconut oil contains a damaging omega 6:omega 3 ratio of 10.2:1 when the actual ratio should be much less. The smoking point of lard is much lower than of coconut oil awarding more points to coconut oil in that respect too.

**While it was said that coconut oil has no known benefits, I’d like to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that over and above the benefits discussed above, coconut oil has a thermogenic benefit that boosts body metabolism, increases HDL and also prompts the release of 2 hormones that promote wellness (peptide YY and leptin).

There have been several studies conducted to amass information about the effects of coconut oil and have had varying results, but I’m yet to come across a study that maligns coconut oil as a much as it has been in Dr Michel’s lecture.

In nutritional science remember there almost is a never be a black or white reading, only inferences from what we know and from ever evolving research studies. So anything we use be it a product, concept or a diet, do so in moderation and balance, that’s the key.

Anupama Menon

Food Coach and Nutritionist


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