Coconut oil not the 'superfood' you think it is, say experts

According to experts, the recent popularity of coconut oil as the new "superfood" is nothing more than marketing hype.
According to experts, the recent popularity of coconut oil as the new "superfood" is nothing more than marketing hype. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

No, coconut oil is not a miracle food for losing weight, curing Alzheimer's disease or preventing diabetes, despite what your favourite celebrities might say.

According to experts, the recent popularity of the tropical oil as the new "superfood" is nothing more than marketing hype.

Coconut oil, which is extracted from the meat of the fruit, is solid at room temperature. With its long shelf life and rich, nutty flavour, the oil is a common ingredient used in food processing and baking.

Recently, Hollywood celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have touted the supposed all-natural health benefits of coconut oil, using it on their face, hair and food.

The purported benefits of coconut oil stem from main saturated fatty acid in it - lauric acid, which has been proven to raise "good" cholesterol or high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

However, it is not known how lauric acid in coconut oil affects "bad" cholesterol or low density lipoprotein cholesterol, as this depends on what the oil replaces in the diet, according to health website UC Berkeley Wellness.

While coconut oil is a healthier alternative to butter or lard, it is not as good as unsaturated plant oils, such as canola oil.

"It would be dangerous, and rather silly, to replace your extra-virgin olive oil with coconut oil," said New Zealand Institute of Chemistry oils and fats specialist Laurence Eyres in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this month.

There is also no conclusive evidence that coconut oil aids weight loss, according to experts. It might even be counterproductive to consume large quantities of coconut oil in hopes of losing weight, as the oil is high in calories.

The same goes for the claims that coconut oil cures Alzheimer's disease or prevents diabetes, as there are limited studies to back these claims.

The bottom line? Coconut oil is not a miracle food. Use it as a replacement for butter and lard in cooking or baking, but for regular use, stick to olive, canola and other non-tropical oils.