Is Coconut Oil A Villain?

Is Coconut Oil A Villain?

Dr. Sajeev Bhaskar

Before the popularization of printing by Gutenberg, information was concentrated on the hands of the rich and the royal in the form of tutors and handwritten (But expensive books). The cheap printed book put information in the hands of the common man which triggered a revolution of information amongst the middle class. Today, thanks to the internet, the common man no longer needs to look up to the so-called experts. I suggest they refer to the huge amount of information in terms of studies conducted all over the world relating to the subject and make their own inferences.

Which brings us to question again, so which of the experts should they believe? The answer surprisingly is all, or at least most of them. Because their statements are not actually contradictory. So how then? There was a lot of talk about whether coconut oil is a villain or a hero? The question we should be addressing is there a villain at all? The answer is yes, but it is not coconut oil. The villain is something called trans-fat which surprisingly found very little mention in the above debate. Now something about trans-fat.

The story begins in 1911, when Proctor and Gamble introduced the first Hydrogenated or refined cooking medium which incidentally was first invented solely for making candles. With the advent of electrification and a declining market for candles, P&G was forced to find alternate uses for the products. Cooking with this medium was one of them. P&G then literally seduced the American public from their usage of traditional cooking media like butter and lard with their ad campaigns and cookbooks.

Hydrogenation or refining is a process that changes the chemical structure of the fatty chains present in oils, to prevent them from turning bad and in some cases also to increase their ‘smoking point’ which is the temperature up to which they can be heated without smoke appearing. What we must understand is that, in this process, the very chemical composition of the oil is altered, and a new form of highly unstable fat called trans-fat is formed. Unfortunately, almost every oil that is available in the market is “refined oil”. So, whether you are using sunflower oil, groundnut oil, palm oil or coconut oil you are inevitably consuming trans-fat.

Trans Fat is an industrially produced product that is not present in nature. It has been conclusively proven now that there is a strong and reliable connection between trans-fat consumption and coronary heart disease. Trans Fat has been found to increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease the good cholesterol (HDL). Many countries such the US, UK, Canada, Denmark, Australia, and the European Union have now made legislations to either ban or control the level of trans fat in food products. In the USA, it is now mandatory that all food products mention the amount of trans fat present in them.

It was confirmed in a study by the dept of Medicine, Safdarjung hospital, New Delhi that the increase in heart disease and type 2 diabetes in India is attributable to the switch from traditional cooking oils to the “so-called new heart friendly” refined oil. They have suggested switching back to a combination of different types of fats including the traditional cooking fats like ghee, coconut oil and mustard oil to reduce these risks. (Published in the journal of India Med Association 1998 Oct 96(10):304-7. This is backed by a lot of studies world-wide. Epidemiological studies done by Kaunitz & Dayrit (1992) on coconut eating societies found that dietary pure coconut oil does not lead to high serum cholesterol nor to high coronary heart disease. It is noteworthy that hydrogenated oils were not consumed by these societies. They only consumed natural coconut oil.

As a doctor who is responsible for assessing and certifying the medical fitness of employees of a large oil company in Oman. I have had the opportunity to study over an extended period the relation between oil consumption and cholesterol levels. I have prescribed therapeutic dosage of 2 tablespoons of unrefined Virgin coconut oil to many of my patients. I also encouraged them to use grated coconut liberally in their food, while telling them to restrict their intake of any food with trans-fat (junk & fried foods). The ensuing results in their lipid profile were very encouraging. The most impressive part of the change is the hike in the good cholesterol level (HDL). I have also noticed considerable anti diabetic effects in these patients as well. In patients who consumed extra virgin coconut oil, an appreciable decrease in the bad cholesterol (LDL) levels were also noted.

In Conclusion, my clinical findings were very much in concurrence with all the above research on lipids quoted earlier. And, coming back to the original question about who is right about coconut oil – all of them are. The ones maligning the poor coconut oil were only referring to the ill effect of “refined” coconut oil while the ones praising the oil were obviously talking about the benefits of the traditional “unrefined” pure coconut oil

The article was written by Dr Sajeev Bhaskar and it is with his due permission that the article has been published on this website.