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Ask a Nutritionist: Is coconut oil guilt-free?

TheGo asks our local, qualified and respected nutritionists a question that has been puzzling you.

The question: Raw food recipes use coconut paste and coconut oil instead of butter and the regular olive/sunflower oil, and coconut flower extract instead of refined sugar, but…

“Are coconut products really healthy ‘guilt-free’ alternatives or are they just the latest craze?”

If you have a food query for our expert panel to answer, please email [email protected].

Mitch Smith – Health Management

The reality is we all want to ‘live on the edge’ at some time in our life, whether that’s eating more butter, having a chocolate brownie or drinking too many beers at the pub after your wife specifically told you not to ruin your dinner. Unfortunately, substituting regular ingredients for coconut products will not; a) help you miraculously lose 10kg and/or b) convince your wife to let you stay at the pub for another two hours, even if you are on a hot streak with the greyhounds!

Coconut products are typically quite high in saturated fat and are not ideal for keeping your cholesterol down. They are also higher in calories, and this definitely isn’t helping your ‘staying at the pub’ longer cause.

When thinking about treats, don’t get too wrapped up about how much sugar, fat or other tasty goodness it has inside – It’s all about the size! Don’t get me wrong, coconut products taste great, but they should be enjoyed in moderation.

Allow yourself to ‘live on the edge’ once a week and have something you really enjoy; just have a small quantity.

About Mitch Smith

Health Management

As an accredited dietitian and accredited sports dietitian; it’s Mitch’s mission to debunk as many nutrition myths as possible. He works with elite professional athletes from a range of sports such as triathlon, body building and football, as well as the Cairns Taipans NBL team (don’t hold that against him!). Mitch has a passion for helping men lose weight and get fit and healthy. He practises what he preaches and translates complicated nutritional jargon into easy-to-understand advice. Mitch has just completed his first Half Ironman in Cairns.

Hannah Gentile – Eat Well Australia

If we look at it from a basic nutritional perspective, products made with coconut tend to be higher in saturated fat – the type that is theorised to cause cardiovascular disease. So on the face of it, coconut does not stack up well against the opposition.

In saying this, coconut oil has been touted as helping prevent Alzheimer’s, cholesterol related diseases and obesity. The problem being that most of these claims are taken from laboratory-based animal studies which may or may not translate to meaningful outcomes in humans.

Nonetheless, it is promising research; much of which is focused around coconut oil’s unique molecular level characteristics. It’s too soon to say diets promoting coconut products work and are indeed healthier, but it’s an area to keep watching.

Overall, it pays to think critically with these types of fads or diet claims. Go back to the basics. For example, we’re looking at oil – a fat. Fat is best in moderation. So whether you decide to use coconut oil, olive oil or any other oil; do so in smaller quantities. Just because one is deemed ‘healthy’ does not mean it’s ‘guilt free’. It simply means it may be ‘healthier’ than the alternatives.

About Hannah Gentile

Eat Well Australia

Hannah Gentile has a Masters of Nutrition from Deakin University. She has spent the past 10 years working in the fields of behavioural science, health, and nutrition with women and children across New Zealand and Australia. Hannah decided to focus her nutritional background on women and children after experiencing a high-risk pregnancy. Addressing the need for good quality information, especially for mothers, Hannah is determined to provide a service women can turn to during the most important stages of their life.

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Carly Lubicz

Carly Lubicz

Carly Lubicz is combining two of her great loves — writing and getting active. Previously working as a journalist, sub-editor, and editor in newspapers and magazines; she is editor and co-founder of TheGo Townsville. She stays active with the staples of road cycling and yoga, but has recently discovered triathlon. And become addicted (apart from the swimming part). She also has a Cert III in Fitness and is passionate about improving mental health through physical activity.

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