To coconut oil, or not to coconut oil?
Remember how last week I mentioned that this summer will go down in history as the Summer of Slime?
Well, oh my God, did I speak too soon. Let’s replace “slime” with “glitter” and we have a more accurate picture.
Sounds pretty I know, but I just … not sure how …. I mean, come on! Let me explain …
There’s a game called “Pie Face”. You probably know it.
If you don’t, then you basically pile spray cream onto a device with a plastic hand and a loaded spring.
You then turn a dial and see if the hand happens to fling the cream directly at you (it’s like Russian roulette, but with cream pies).
Well, imagine what happens if you replace the cream with bowls (yes, bowls) of glitter. And what happens if this game is going on right in front of an air conditioner cranked up to the max.
I was on the phone to my mum at the time. We chatted for 20 minutes while I was on the patio. When I’d stepped outside, life was completely normal. When I stepped back inside, it was like walking onto the stage of an American Idol finale.
There was so much glitter suspended in the air, it was hard to see the actual children. I mean, I could hear them laughing hysterically, but visibility was basically at slim to none.
To maximise the damage, we have an open-plan kitchen, dining and living area.
I’ve always thought that was a good thing, but without walls or doors to contain the glitter explosion, it travelled unbelievably far.
I also made the mistake of asking the children to clear it up themselves.
Accountability, responsibility and all the things that feel like good parenting.
In reality, there was some arguing, an actual wrestle over a dustpan and brush, the most incredible amount of back and forth for handwashing/dumping of glitter and a general worsening of the entire situation as, inconceivably, they actually managed to reduce the volume but increase the overall trajectory; would you like glitter on your toilet roll? Excellent. Come on over.
What did I learn from all this? That I’m not anti-glitter.
Glitter is a good thing. But glitter in large doses, in an unpredictable and uncontained environment, is not a good thing.
Also, in reality, the amount of glitter that can be tolerated really comes down to the individual (in my case, the threshold is apparently low). And this week, I also learnt that glitter threshold draws an amazing parallel to coconut oil. It’s a tenuous link I know, bear with me …
On Monday, my inbox exploded as an issue with coconut oil (initially raised last year) raised its head again.
This time, a lecture from a Harvard professor about the negative qualities of coconut oil had gone viral and was all over the press.
The drama within the nutrition world was pretty significant, given the pedestal that coconut oil has been on.
Harvard was arguing that the saturated fat content of coconut oil is just insurmountable and directly connected to higher levels of total and LDL cholesterol levels.
They were also questioning the data supporting apparent health benefits of coconut oil — for example, that the link between coconut oil’s medium chain triglycerides and health benefits is questionable given that the MCTs used in positive clinic trials were a synthetic derivative and not the real deal.
In contrast, nutrition professionals in the more holistic arena (Dr Josh Axe, for example) have heaps of research at their fingertips in support of coconut oil.
Honestly, you can look at both sets of data and read convincing arguments. It’s a little like comparing the science behind vegan eating or the Paleo approach.
They couldn’t be more different (plant-based vs meat-based) and yet they both have data to support their benefits.
In the case of the vegan vs Paleo debate, I would say that individual suitability is of massive significance, affected by everything from the state of your microbiome to your genetic expression.
I would argue that similarly, how suitable coconut oil is for you, depends on your nutritional needs and your genetics.
Because some people carry genetic variants that mean they thrive on a somewhat higher fat diet, but some people don’t.
Maybe that accounts for some of the chaos within the data … because genetic variation hasn’t really been taken into account in a significant way yet.
Although this sounds confusing and may make you want to throw the towel in (especially when it feels like the story is always changing), I think it’s actually more helpful to look at a different aspect of fat consumption and shift your focus.
I feel like we’re getting technical now and I need some kind of dirty joke to keep your attention! I don’t have one (what’s up with that? So unusual for me!) Just give me five more minutes, OK? Good!
In my Nutrifit nutrition classes, I actually teach that over and above the issue of saturated vs unsaturated fats, we really need to consider our intake of omega-3 fats in relation to our omega-6.
In an ideal world, we would have an omega-6 to omega-3 intake ratio of about 3:1, but in Western diets it varies between about 10-20:1. That’s way off.
It’s because we eat so many grains and vegetable oils (which are rich in omega-6) and so little oily fish (think sardines and mackerel), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia and hemp.
It’s compounded by the fact that cows now mainly eat soy/corn (omega-6) vs grass (omega-3) which impacts the fats found in both beef and dairy products.
We know that omega-3 deficiency is linked to a whole host of chronic diseases, but more than that, an imbalance in the ratio appears to cause a problem too.
Is your brain hurting yet?
Let me help. Given all the above, my takeaways from all this would be:
• No matter how many reports you read, don’t limit yourself to one source of fats. I rotate coconut, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, light olive oil, flax oil and safflower.
What I use and when varies according to if food is raw or heated (and how high the temperature is). Come along to Nutrifit (starts soon — check my website) to find out more.
• The data in support of coconut oil is looking at cold-pressed, extra virgin coconut oil. This is best used in raw desserts, baking at a low temperatures (under 350F) or over a low, direct heat. The rule of thumb is to never heat an oil so hot that it smokes in the pan. That’s when it becomes damaged.
• Make a concerted effort to increase dietary omega-3 (wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, walnuts, hemp, pumpkin seeds, flax, chia).
• If you don’t eat oily fish at least twice a week, then take a good quality fish oil supplement that has been screened for heavy metal contamination, especially if you eat a lot of grain. My favourite is the Innate Choice brand, sold at Inside Out Wellness Centre.
• Note that bad fats block the uptake of good fats. So don’t take a fish oil supplement at the same time as eating a burger and expect it to work. You can’t out-supplement a bad diet! You have to be consistent with supplements too.
• If you do eat beef/dairy, go for grass-fed products eg Joyce Farms grass-fed beef and Organic Valley milk/cheese/yoghurt (Supermart).
• Eat plenty of walnuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp, chia, flax. Add to cereal, yoghurt, granola or make trail mix.
• Keep vegetable oils (eg soy, corn) to a minimum. Avoid processed junk/fried food.
• Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. For details: www.natural.bm, 236-7511 or, Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda