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Over the past couple of years, coconut oil has received a lot of media attention. And why not? It smells amazing; tastes good with just about anything; curbs food cravings and promotes weight loss.
But as it turns out, science – or the American Heart Association, to be precise – has ruled that coconut oil may not be the ‘miracle’ we’ve been hoping for.
In the study released June 15, the AHA studied the relationship between saturated fats and blood cholesterol levels; the higher the levels of the latter, the higher the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The results weren’t earth-shattering per se: researchers found that replacing just five per cent of a person’s saturated fat consumption with polyunsaturated caused the risk of a heart attack to lower by 25 per cent. So far, so familiar.
How does coconut oil fit into all of this, you ask? Well, the authors of the report note that coconut oils have a high saturated fat content – in fact, 82 per cent of the fat in coconut oil is of the saturated variety.
Confused? Don’t worry, let’s break down the study’s implications for you: according to the authors, including coconut oil into your diet could be elevating your blood cholesterol levels, resulting in a heightened risk of a cardiovascular disease.
Hold up…are you sure?!
As you can imagine, the report has been greeted by outrage on both social and traditional media. The Huffington Post, for example, published a response titled “Yes, Coconut Oil Is Still Healthy. It’s Always Been Healthy.” (Though it’s also worth noting that in 2015, the news outlet published an article questioning the effectiveness of said oil.)
While it would be easy to dismiss the outcry because, well, science, we thought it wise to mention that the scientists themselves have been questioning the results of the AHA. Some have claimed that the results of their study may have been overstated, while others are critiquing the methods used to achieve the results.
Academic arguments aside, it’s impossible to predict the trajectory of coconut oil’s popularity will go. After all, just 20 years ago, people believed coconut oil to pretty much be an untouchable, far unhealthier than butter.
So what does does this all mean? Have we come full circle?
Well, no. Not really. The problem here is that there haven’t been enough studies proving or disproving either case. As more studies are being done, we may find that the AHA was wrong and we should really be downing spoonfuls of coconut oil every morning. Or we may find that coconut oil is nothing better than a more expensive alternative to plain ol’ vegetable oil.
But…what about me?
In the meantime, there’s no need to throw it out just yet (or ever).
See, one of the reasons why coconut oil boasts its exalted status as a ride-or-die ingredient is because it’s so versatile; there are so many ways you can include it in your beauty regime. I, for one, enjoy using it as a pre-shampoo treatment and a makeup remover. (It can get a little messy but trust me when I say it removes everything – eyeshadow, mascara and best of all, heavy-duty gel eyeliners. Trust me.)
Others, like lifestyle and fitness YouTuber Niomi Smart, recommend using it as a moisturiser, while actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley swear by its reported benefits for “oil-pulling”. (That involves swishing a spoonful of coconut oil in your mouth for a good 20 minutes as a teeth-whitening gargle. The jury is still out on whether that actually works.) And of course, it forms a great base for some DIY body scrubs.
Bottomline: if you absolutely love the nutty taste of coconut oil in your food, then by all means, go ahead. As with everything else in life, use it in moderation and you’ll be fine.