We ask Bertil Wosk: Does coconut oil really live up to its claimed health properties?
Yet again, coconut oil is the subject of the day. All of us at FP use coconut oil when we cook and we frequently receive inquiries about whether or not it actually stands up to the many alleged health claims. Most recently, a reader sent a link to this article in Aftonbladet and asked if we could comment. In the article Karin Michels, a professor at Harvard, states that coconut oil is poisonous.
In order to properly immerse ourselves in the topic we asked nutritionist Bertil Wosk if he could give his opinion on the matter. Today we share his reply.
– How do you view using coconut oil, Bertil?
Karin Michels claims in the article that coconut oil is a poison. The focal point is that coconut oil is like butter and lard in that it is dangerous due to its high concentration of saturated fat (92% saturated fat). Saturated fats are considered by some medical experts to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
There are good fats and bad fats. And there is also good saturated fat and bad saturated fat, as well as good and bad polyunsaturated fats. The body needs saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 are important because they form prostaglandins that act as local hormones and are very potent. However, too much polyunsaturated fats are not good either.
Saturated fat is important for several reasons, one of which is as an energy reserve. Both saturated fats and cholesterol are part of the makeup of the cell membrane for all cells and fulfill an important function. But all saturated fats are not equal. Short chain saturated fatty acids are not stored as fat in the body but are broken down directly and used as energy by the cells. And short chain saturated fatty acids are found, for example, in coconut oil and butter, which Karin Michels and Sweden’s Food Administration warn for in Aftonbladet’s article. But these short chain fatty acids found in coconut oil and butter are also used as nutrition by good bacteria in the intestine, and assist these good bacteria in propagating and in turn helping to strengthen the intestinal mucosa. They are therefore beneficial. Of course, you can overdo these fatty acids just like anything else, but it has not proved to be of any major concern so far.
The main issue is that Karin Michels, like the Food Administration, assumes that all saturated fat is dangerous. So the conclusion is drawn that, if all saturated fat is dangerous, butter and coconut oil which have more saturated fat than other fats are then most dangerous. But that conclusion stands unsupported, there are still no studies showing a related link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease.
Personally, I recommend using only butter and coconut oil because they contain the good forms of saturated fat. As well as olive oil which is rich in omega-9 and contains a lot of antioxidants. Other oils like soy, corn, sunflower, safflower and rapeseed oil, I believe should be used with care because they contain far too much omega-6, which can be a problem as it contributes to inflammation. Rapeseed oil contains 10% omega-3, but also twice as much omega-6. If you want to have a lot of omega-3 from the plant kingdom, I recommend linseed oil that has about 60% omega-3.
Butter has been eaten for centuries all over the world and coconut oil is and has been a staple for millions of people in Asia for hundreds of years, both without giving rise to problems. It is however important that coconut oil is virgin oil and not refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil. The latter has been shown to have harmful effects that virgin coconut oil does not have.
The increased rate of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as most other chronic diseases, is not due to saturated fats but to processed industrial food, especially fast carbohydrates. If any fat is poisonous, it is margarine which is an unnatural industrial-made product that does not belong in a kitchen.