Coconut Oil: Yay or Nay?
For years we have been made to believe that coconut oil is great for us. A recent health advisory issued by the AHA (American Heart Association) suggesting that coconut oil is actually bad for one’s health, had the internet in a tizzy. We spoke to Senior Cardiologist, Dr Nandakumar to find out more.
Vanilla Luxury: What’s your take on the recent health advisory issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) suggesting that coconut oil is bad for you?
Dr Nandakumar: I’ve been enjoying this debate immensely. First off, the excitement was spurred by a miniscule section of the entire report - which was 24 pages long! Marketing propaganda and celebrity endorsements aside, let’s look at the facts of fats. Supporting a number of bodily functions, our bodies need fat from the food we eat. But fat is high in calories and not all fats are equal. Some, such as saturated and trans fats increase the risk of heart disease.
Coconut Oil? Even though derived from a plant, it is full of saturated fat - in fact, far more (80%) than butter (64%) or animal fat(50%)! Olive oil is at a low 14%. Research has consistently pointed to a simple fact that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats reduces the risk of heart disease (i.e. cardiovascular disease) by up to 30%.1
Vanilla Luxury: What is saturated vs. unsaturated fat in layman’s terms? Should we be eating it and how much?
Dr Nandakumar: Essentially there are two types of fats - the good and the bad guys, unsaturated and saturated respectively. Within each of these there are many further types of fats – poly, mono etc. The good unsaturated fats, when eaten in moderation can help you lower your risk of heart disease. Now the bad ones, saturated (and trans) fats should be eaten very sparingly as they can raise cholesterol and your risk for heart disease.
Should you remove fats entirely from your diet? No. However, keep in mind that all fats, including the healthy ones, are high in calories. So substitute monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats for other types of fat - but keeping quantities in mind.
Vanilla Luxury: Do genetics matter when it comes to one’s diet?
Dr Nandakumar: Genetic factors so far only make a small contribution to obesity risk (barring a few rare forms of obesity or as part of syndromes). These too can be counteracted with a healthy lifestyle - so don’t use it as an excuse. Science proves that our genes have stayed largely the same over the past 40 years though obesity rates have continued to rise and these maybe related to our environment and how it affects our diet and activity levels.2 It’s as simple as, getting off that couch!
Vanilla Luxury: So, should we or should we not have coconut oil?
Dr Nandakumar: Coconut oil lovers, I have good and bad news for you.
Yes, you can have coconut oil - but only within the recommended amount of no more than a tablespoon a day, which itself is about 13g of saturated fat i.e. about just more than the recommended intake of saturated fats a day.
Vanilla Luxury: We eat so much hidden fat these days, how should I keep my fat intake in check?
Dr Nandakumar: The basics still apply. Remove all fat from your meats, bake and broil vs. frying food. Also, try and avoid trans-fat completely and limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your calories for the day. How do you do this? Get smart at reading food labels and snack simple. Many off the shelf snacks are high in fat, especially solid fats that are not good for you; better still, grab that apple or banana instead! But most of all - remember when it comes to fat, moderation is key. Finally - Be Smart- Be “Label Smart”
1Harvard School of Public Health: “Dietary fat and heart disease study is seriously misleading.”
Dr Ramasami Nandakumar is currently working as a Senior Interventional Cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital and Mount Alvernia Hospital. He is also a Visiting Senior Consultant at Ng Teng Fong Hospital and National University Hospital. You can reach Dr Kumar on +65 82616483 (WhatsApp) or via his website www.h2h.com.sg.
Wordsmith and marketer by day, Natasha is your go-to girl on all things beauty, travel and family. This mommy to two loves her cheese, a fab read and crooning to Ping Fong (don't we all?). Natasha also heads Communications at Expatgiving and helps volunteers find their dream non-profit role! Reach her at email or via her Instagram @sonattymama
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