The use of coconut oil has been widely promoted, from beauty experts to health influencers, but while everyone is in a frenzy searching for extra virgin cold pressed organic coconut oil at the nearest health food store, we have forgotten to ask if this “wonder” oil is truly good for us. Luckily, one Harvard professor has.
Usually, a YouTube video going viral isn’t considered to be very unusual. However, when the video is 50-minute German lecture by Kerin Michels, the director of the Institute for Prevention and Tumor Epidemiology at the University of Freiburg and professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, it calls for some attention.
In the lecture, titled Coconut Oil and other Nutritional Errors, Michels made her stance on health and dietary recommendation clear, especially that coconut oil is not healthy.
The superfood status of coconut oil already came under scrutiny last year after the American Heart Association restructured its guidelines and recommended that people avoid the use of saturated fatty acids, which are found in coconut oil.
Michels advised avoiding the use of the oil completely, saying “coconut oil is pure poison”. She also mentioned that it is “one of the worst foods you can eat.”
While there is no study demonstrating the health benefits of coconut oil consumption, according to Michels, the oil is considered to be more dangerous than lard because it is almost exclusively made of saturated fatty acids, ones that can clog the coronary arteries. It is easy to identify whether or not fats contain large amounts of saturated fatty acids by checking to see if they remain solid at room temperature, as in the case of butter or lard.
Since coconut oil contains high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, experts recommend olive or rapeseed oil as an alternative, and although it can’t be used for cooking, flaxseed oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is great for the body.
Though Michels doesn’t address other superfoods such as acai, chia seeds, or matcha as harmful, she does consider them to be ineffective because in most cases, the nutrients found in these foods are also available in other foods that are more easily obtainable like carrots, cherries, and apricots.
“We are well sufficiently supplied,” she said.Related: Scientists Issue Canola Oil Warning
But Are Saturated Fats Unhealthy?
While most researchers agree that olive oil and linseed oil are great additions to any healthy diet, the scientific world is still unsure whether saturated fatty acids are truly horrible.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who frequently consume cheese, whole milk, and other high-fat dairy products–or products high in saturated fatty acids–are at no higher risk of dying from a heart attack, stroke, or other illness than people who avoid these foods.
A separate study published in The Lancet used data from 135,000 people in 18 countries and found that high fat and low carbohydrate consumption were linked with a 23 percent lower risk of death.
So, where does this leave coconut oil? While most international dietary guidelines recommend the consumption of saturated fats, it’s important to remember that moderation is key. Don’t give up your soft spot for coconut oil, just try not to overindulge.Related: They Said Coconut Oil Was Great for You but This Is What You Don’t Know