Harvard professor calls coconut oil 'pure poison' in viral talk on nutrition

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Coconut oil in a jar on wood table close-up.

Coconut oil in short has been hailed as a superfood for some time now.

It's a dietary fad, a "superfood" and sometimes even used to remove makeup, but according to one Harvard University professor, coconut oil is nothing but poison.

Dr Michels' claims follow a move by the American Heart Association (AHA) a year ago to update its guidelines, which recommended that people avoid the saturated fatty acids found in coconut oil.

Coconut oil's rise to fame began after two studies by Columbia University which looked at medium-chain fatty acids, a type of fat present in coconuts.

The professor said the oil is worse than lard - made from pig fat - yet 70% of Americans believed it to be one of the healthiest oils available.

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Her warning is based on the high proportion of saturated fat in coconut oil, according to The Guardian.

Despite the advice, promotions from health food shops such as Holland and Barrett, and celebrity endorsements from Gwyneth Paltrow and others, have helped United Kingdom sales of coconut oil surge in recent years from about £1m to £16.4m in the past four years, according to the consumer research group Kantar.

Adding coconut oil to everything won't make it healthier.

The American Heart Association advises against high consumption of saturated fats due to their association with cardiovascular disease - still the leading global cause of death at 17.3 million per year. The advisory paper recommended against ingesting coconut oil because of its high saturated fat content. "For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that's about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat". Indulging in a bit of coconut oil, of course, won't kill you. Each tablespoon of coconut oil provides 130 calories. The rats did indeed stop eating and lost weight, but the injection also slowed the animals' heart rates and lowered their basal body temperature, a toxic effect - though fortunately not one particularly relevant to eating coconut products, given that the study was not about diet or even coconut oil.

In fact, when St-Onge and her colleagues tested standard coconut oil versus corn oil in a study published in the journal Insights in Nutrition and Metabolism in July 2017, they found no evidence that coconut oil was better for feelings of being satiated, insulin levels, glucose levels or resting energy expenditure. Some gargle or rinse their mouths with coconut oil calling it "oil pulling". It's "one of the worst foods you can eat". This review had shown that coconut oil can raise the levels of HDL cholesterol but also raises total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides over and above unsaturated fats such as those contained in olive oil.