On Coconut Oil and Other Dietary Myths

American Heart Association (AHA) recently published a recommendation on avoiding coconut oil consumption. The cause for this is scientific literature review showing this type of oil raises LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, which can lead to higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if coconut oil wasn’t so trendy right now – for better health, more intelligence and beauty and… what did I forget? Oh yeah, a better sex life and a better hairstyle for your neighbor’s giraffe.

Public reaction to this publication was fierce. Some were ready to come aboard the Demonized Coconut Oil train, and some questioned the legitimacy of American Heart Association and the conflict of interest for some of the members – and reinterpreted scientific data, hoping to hold on to some straw that would protect their beliefs.

Why are the viewpoints so opposed?

It mostly depends on the fact that if you like coconut oil, you use it and/or you recommend it to others. People way too often base their opinions on protecting their beliefs instead on fact-checked data. After the above-mentioned recommendation came out, one of the Croatian news portals asked me for a statement that would be a part of the article about how Croatian nutritionists approached the subject. I said that it wasn’t news that coconut oil isn’t the best option for food preparation. I also added that it doesn’t need to be completely excluded from your diet, just like any other food item.

Other three nutritionists mentioned the health benefits of coconut oil, saying moderation is everything – the famous nutritionist saying which means nothing without a context. Unless you add the less famous one – you should be moderate with moderation as well.

The thing that bothers me is the incredible ease with which some throw away the recommendations of the leading institution in this area. Of course, it’s easier to stick to your beliefs and a priori reject someone else’s that are different. But an expert, especially a nutritionist who is responsible for someone’s health, should be humble enough to admit having wrong beliefs, showing readiness to change them.

Is it possible that AHA is wrong? Yes. Even the biggest institutions can be wrong. Not even they can foresee information from new scientific research that would eventually lead to new recommendations.

But don’t fool yourself thinking that it happens often, or that you or your nutritionist know better. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Not the type of evidence where your grandma’s best friend’s neighbor healed her gastritis using birch tree extract. Firm scientific evidence. And due to the volume, complexity of interpretation, and the fact that scientific literature is not that easy to come by, very few individuals can actually provide this kind of evidence.

Coconut oil glorification is a dietary trend. Trends by definition disappear quickly.

Trends include avoiding the consumption of carbs and fats in the same meal. Which is logical since we know that food mixes in our digestive system for hours after we ingest it. If you’ve ever seen a marathon runner, who gets up to 70% of calories from carbs, you certainly laughed at them being overweight.

Trends also includes include drinking lukewarm water with lemon after waking up. Don’t even try it with cold water. 

Inventing dietary trends is a profitable business. If you go against big institutions, this maverick attitude will get you even more publicity. If you’re qualified in any way, even better.

Some actually believe the trends they are creating, others just lie. Some simply don’t know any better and naively spread unverified or false infomation.

But the demand is the one that creates the supply. Some ask for sensations, other bring them sensations. No one wants to hear there is no magical weight loss pill. No one wants to hear that the body clings to excess weight because it still lives in the times when food was a luxury.

As long as there are people who ask for dietary sensations, believing there are shortcuts to health and aesthetics, there will be people to supply it. Neither will disappear any time soon, so you need to find your way in the world of dietary sensations. Asking for help of a qualified nutritionist is one way to do it.

Now that you’ve regained faith in institutions and experts, you’ll ask: Ok, Bojan, should I consume coconut oil or not? Drink it, put it in a salad, or fry some meat on it?

Consuming coconut oil from time to time won’t kill you. However, use olive oil if you can, and take all dietary advice that sounds too good to be true with a grain of salt. Or a teaspoon.