While there’s nothing new about coconut oil, recently the media has been awash with articles extolling its virtues, not to mention the tsunami of celebrities who suddenly swear by it. Websites are full of converts who are adding it to smoothies, drizzling it over salads and even downing it by the spoonful in a quest for better health. Some of the (many) claims about coconut oil include that it:
Coconut oil is also claimed to provide stress relief and boost immunity. One CHOICE staffer was even told recently in a beauty salon that applying virgin coconut oil would help the hair in her eyebrows grow back! But before you head to the health food section of your supermarket for your own jar of miracle oil, CHOICE finds out what the experts have to say about this year’s latest food trend.
What is it?
Coconut oil is extracted from the flesh of the coconut. It has a slight nutty flavour and works well in both savoury and sweet dishes. It’s particularly popular in vegan cooking and can replace dairy products to make pastry and creamy desserts. It has a very high smoking point when cooking and has a long shelf life.
Crazy about coconuts
Melbourne-based dietitian Zoe Nicholson, from private consultancy Figureate, says she’s seeing an increase in clients who are asking about coconut oil and cooking with it. “Some believe the claims that are being made about weight loss, boosting the immune system and fighting various diseases and others are using it because everyone is talking about it and shops are selling it as the new best thing. “
Dr Kellie Bilinski an Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia says she’s has seen an increased interest in the use of coconut oil by the public and much of it has been driven by those who are following sugar-free and paleo diets.
But they eat it in Asia....
The fact coconut oil is so high in saturated fat needs to be considered in the context of a Western diet, says Nicholson. While much Asian cuisine uses coconut in many forms, coconut is/was one of only a few sources of saturated fat. “Traditionally they don't tuck into cheese, butter, chocolate, big steaks, bacon or fast food just to name a few common sources of saturated fat in the Western diet.”
Don’t believe the hype
Despite its popularity both our experts warn that while using coconut oil may have a few health benefits, none of the claims above have been properly researched or proven yet.
A healthier alternative
Most plant-based oils are healthy, good alternatives, and are probably going to be cheaper as well:
Rice bran oil and peanut oil are great for stir-frying, while extra virgin olive oil is good for cooking on moderate heat and for salad dressings.
- Canola and sunflower oils are also suitable for cooking.
Want to know more about nutrition? See our Food and drink section.