I feel somewhat dubious when a particular food is declared a “superfood”. Whether it’s wheatgrass, blueberries, kale, chia seeds or goji berries, once a product has been labeled a superfood, it’s guaranteed that the time will come when someone vehemently denounces it. Now, apparently, it’s the turn of coconut oil to face the firing squad.
The currently-popular coconut oil is a plant-based medium chain triglyceride, and as such is said to have anti-ageing properties – probably the reason it was labelled a superfood in the first place.
However, Professor Karin Michels at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has just declared coconut oil “pure poison”, saying it’s “even worse than lard”. Now, the fact is, a diet heavy in either would not be ideal. I’m not a fan of the indiscriminate consumption of fats.
Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet and is absolutely essential for life, so having some fat in your diet is fine and can actually be healthy – fatty acids are essential to life and some saturated fat is truly beneficial in the diet. But please keep in mind that any obsession with one foodstuff is going to be unhealthy… superfood or not.
Coconut oil and lard can both be part of a healthy diet, but I wouldn’t recommend either in high quantities. As long as the lard is from healthy animals, cooking with some is fine. Cooking with some coconut oil is also fine. I’d just recommend not to go overboard with their use.
High fat diets alter the state of the gut microbiome, and can lead to an impaired gut barrier, called “leaky gut”, and diets too low in fat can be equally harmful; people who consume very low fat diets can become depressed, and having some saturated fat in the diet improves both fertility and mood.
We must stop stigmatizing real food, and recognize that most diets which stress only one food group are likely bad diets. Fat is good, carbs are good. Protein is good. We just don’t want to eat more than our bodies need, and most of us don’t need lots of fat or protein, but rather do best with lots of vegetables and fiber.
Regardless of the fats consumed, nutritional needs must met, which means a diet filled with more vegetables, whole grains, some fruit, nuts and seeds, and fewer processed foods.
I believe coconut oil is fine to use as a cooking oil and in dishes – just don’t use too much, and try to use organic. It isn’t evil, but nor is it a panacea. As with anything healthy, moderation is key, so don’t go crazy and pile it into your coffee. After all, it’s important to enjoy your food without letting it make you crazy!