Have we all gone (coco)nuts ?

by Dr. Daamini Shrivastav

July 20, 2016


  • Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and so is a fat, not an oil
  • Coconut oil goes ‘off’ easily
  • The virgin, refined coconut oils are the best ones to opt for
  • Coconut oil is mostly a saturated fat and that causes heart disease
  • Coconut oil will help me lose weight


  • Coconut oil is made by pressing the fat from the white flesh inside the giant nut. Coconut oil is hydrogenated to keep it solid at higher temperatures. In its natural form, coconut oil is liquid above 76 degrees F and solid below that. In higher latitudes like the USA and UK, coconut oil is almost always solid making it technically a “fat” and not an oil. But in tropical climates it is almost always liquid, making it an oil.
  • Coconut oil is also incredibly stable and doesn’t degrade at high temperatures. That is why it’s ideal for cooking. Vegetable oils, including olive oil, can oxidize at high temperatures and create free radicals. If it’s stored in a glass jar, coconut oil will keep for years.
  • There are hydrogenated versions, often advertised as refined coconut oils in the market too – avoid them!  They are no better than margarine.  In fact, it was hydrogenated coconut oils that were studied decades ago and caused scientists to proclaim tropical oils a health hazard because they are chock full of chemicals and have been so manipulated that the body cannot recognize them as real food.
  • Fats have (wrongly) been linked to heart disease in previous decades and the same is true for coconut oil. Dr. Conrado S. Dayrit’s and Dr. Janaki Goonerate’s comprehensive studies in Philippines, Polynesia, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia found no link between coconut oil consumption and heart disease.       Indeed Dr. Goonerate’s research concluded that consumption of coconut oil at levels up to 16.4% of total energy per day had no heart disease risk on the local population.
  • A massive pro of coconut oil over its competitors is the presence of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Coconut oil is different in that it's made up of 60-65 percent MCTs that the body absorbs and metabolizes quicker than long-chained cousins. The result is increased energy expenditure when compared with the metabolism of LCTs. MCTs also contain slightly fewer calories per gram than LCTs (8.3 calories per gram versus 9/gram). Basically, MCT-rich coconut oil can temporarily boost your metabolism and has fewer calories than other fats. But before you start dousing your food with it, STOP - coconut is high in calories! You can’t just add it to your diet without cutting back elsewhere and exercising and expect to shred kilos. Being thermogenic only means that you will burn off a fraction of the extra calories you put in your body by eating it. The net calories you gain from coconut oil still count. Making the prospect of losing weight with coconut oil even bleaker, studies suggest that the thermic effect of MCTs is weaker in women and potentially phases out in everyone after a few weeks. To date, there has been very little human research to support coconut oil's appetite-suppressing and weight loss effects so to think of it as a magic fat-loss bullet is just wishful thinking.


  • When it comes to the immunity-boosting claims of coconut oil, it is largely attributed to the fat compound Lauric acid. Lauric acid, also found in breast milk, is converted by the body into monolaurin which is thought to posses anti-viral qualities. Coconut oil is also made up of caprylic acid which contains antifungal and antibacterial properties against candida, yeast infections and small intestinal parasites.
  • Coconut oil does have some proven health benefits; it is most certainly one of the most soothing topical oils for the skin and has been used for generations to reduce inflammation caused by insect stings, allergies, sun burns, eczema and bruises from trauma. The antimicrobial properties of coconut oil can even help heal wounds.
  • I imagine the popularity of coconut oil might be linked to the rise in veganism; not being an animal fat makes it an excellent alternative to butter


  • Because coconut oil has never gone up against viruses or bacteria in a well-designed study in humans the claims of several online bloggers remain unsubstantiated. The same holds true for assertions and declarations of its curative power in fighting Alzheimers, Dementia and Diabetes; the evidence is mostly word-of-mouth and not from randomized, controlled trials and research studies.
  • While coconut oil is a know skin softener and conditioner it must be stated that that’s where the ‘magic’ ceases so do not foolishly buy into claims of it being a natural sunscreen or a cellulite  remover!

My Take
As always, I don’t have to look far for inspiration for my next piece. This time it came in the form of a dinner party at a beloved aunt’s home. She assured me, as I reached for a deep-fried snack that it was perfectly healthy and I could gorge myself silly on them because she’d fried them in coconut oil.   Coconut oil – be it online on social media platforms or on grocery shelves. It IS the super-food du jor. The sweet-smelling tropical staple is rumored to slow aging, help your heart and thyroid, protect against illnesses like Alzheimer’s, arthritis and diabetes, make your teeth luminescent white, boost skin glow and of course, make you lose weight. People are using it in everything from smoothies to bulletproof coffee (a mug of java spiked with coconut oil), even heaping it onto popcorn and throwing it into cookie batter instead of butter. Usually in the hopes of a smaller waistline…   Which makes it downright confusing when the FDA has given a particular brand of coconut oil a slap on the wrist for marketing it by using unsubstantiated health and nutritional claims. The brand leveraged the oil to “cure” patients with HIV. If it weren’t appalling cruel, I’d laugh. Have we all gone (coco)nuts?   Note that coconut oil is NOT indeed ‘new’. It has been around for thousands of years as a staple favorite of many, many diets and lifestyles. We just needed something new to move on from barking up the gluten-intolerance  tree * rolls eyes *   My take? The next time you’re at the grocery store and staring up at shelves upon shelves of what is promised to be THE “miracle food”, bring out your phone and Google the word ‘miracle’. And if this nutty oil still appeals to you as an ‘extraordinary and wondrous elixir of life’ that’ll stave off Diabetes and get rid of that pudgy belly, then remember this edition of DEBUNKED ;-)

Dr. Daamini Shrivastav


Dr. Daamini Shrivastav

Juggling many roles from physician to writer to pilates instructor to Marketing-PR executive, Dr. Daamini is constantly pushed and inspired to get creative on how to encompass a Retreat into her daily life.
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