Hardly a cookery show can pass without the mention of coconut oil as the latest trendy thing to cook with. Celebrity chefs promote cooking with coconut oil as a healthy alternative to other oils and ways of cooking, and indeed I've seen claims to its cure-all properties.
These range from good for weight loss, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol-lowering, wound healing and memory boosting to being a panacea for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases as well as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
What people don't realise is that coconut oil is entirely fat, and as much as 90% of the fat is saturated fat. Compare this with the saturated fat of most butter, which is 52% and I believe many will be surprised.
It's quite shocking to hear that this so-called healthy cooking oil has higher saturated fat content than lard! Having too much saturated fat can lead to obesity and increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing a heart disease or having a stroke.
Cholesterol is carried in the blood attached to proteins called LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). LDL cholesterol is often referred to as 'bad cholesterol' because too much is unhealthy and HDL is often referred to as 'good cholesterol'. Raising HDL cholesterol has been suggested as a benefit of coconut oil but any benefit cannot be compensated for by the strong negative effects of raising LDL cholesterol. So although HDL may go up, so too does LDL, which is not good.
Of course, we'll only hear about the benefits of raising the good cholesterol from anyone promoting coconut oil and little about the harmful effects on higher bad cholesterol levels. Our own research found that an alarming one in ten of people resort to coconut oil to manage their cholesterol, presumably under the misguided impression of the benefits claimed on HDL without understanding the harmful effects of LDL.
So keep coconut oil with the cosmetics and don't be tempted to cook with it and be fooled by the health claims.
October is HEART UK's National Cholesterol Month and we use the month to raise awareness of raised cholesterol and to help people manage their risk. There are no symptoms to high cholesterol and people of all shapes and sizes are affected with the only sign being the result of a terrible heart attack or stroke.
Diet and lifestyle are a major factor in high cholesterol and it is a disgrace that people wanting to follow a healthier lifestyle are duped into believing the claims about coconut oil.
HEART UK has a wealth of information about what does help lower cholesterol and if you use coconut oil in the kitchen, stop and pay a visit to our website for what are the healthier alternative cooking oils: www.heartuk.org.uk.