In a country like India, asking people not to consume coconut oil can pass off as blasphemy. A dietary staple in most south Indian households, this clear liquid has been used for ages. So it was only expected that when epidemiologist Karin Michels of Harvard University deemed coconut oil as “one of the worst foods you can eat” or is “pure poison”, it would spark a mix of outrage and incredulity.
According to The Washington Post, B N Srinivasa Murthy, India’s horticulture commissioner, in a letter emailed to the dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wrote, “The comments by Michels are unsubstantiated and inconsiderate”. He asked the dean to take “corrective measures” and retract the comments.
Celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar took to Instagram to talk about this claim by Michels. “Making a food into a hero and then a villain is a tried and tested strategy of the food and weight loss industry. The latest controversy is on coconut. The golden rule though is – if it has been consumed in your region for ages and has multiple and varied uses, its a superfood”, she said.
We reached out to experts to find out if they too opposed the use of coconut oil. But to most, it seemed like an overstretch.
“Coconut oil has a unique property of getting absorbed into the system directly, unlike the rest of the oils which mandates a digestive pathway. This property of coconut oil makes its usage beneficial in patients who are: highly cachectic; for those who have liver ailments, immediate post cholecystectomy compromised bowel either due to medications or a disease; children, adults and geriatrics who suffer from malabsorption. Considering the above-listed benefits, nutritionists may not brand coconut oil a poison”, says Dr Vinitha Krishnan, nutritionist, Fortis Malar Hospital.
American Heart Association recommends that no more than 5-6% of calories come from saturated fats. The concept of good cholesterol is considered dubious now, only raising LDL matter of the heart.
Dr Shruti Sharma, bariatric counselor and nutritionist, Jaypee Hospital, Noida says, “Coconut oil is high in saturated fat which tends to increase bad cholesterol LDL and triglyceride levels in the blood. But at the same time, it has a higher number of Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), which are fats found in foods like coconut oil. They are metabolised differently than the long-chain triglycerides (LCT) found in most other foods. MCT oil is a supplement that contains a lot of these fats and is considered to have many health benefits”.
She adds, “The fact that coconut oil is good for health is not proved with strong evidence but it is bad for heart health. Moderation is the key for people who consume coconut oil on a daily basis. Just 13 grams of fat from saturated fats per day is recommended. Replacing coconut oil or saturated fats with monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) like those found in olive oils and canola oil is also recommended”.