Coconut Oil is the New Butter — And Other ‘Wonder’ Foods That Now Get a Bad Rap

Not that long ago, coconut oil was the new “it” food. The surprise weight loss anecdote. A product with health benefits that were only recently discovered before being endlessly obsessed over.

But, like with other foods before it, coconut oil’s popularity has become a complicated affair. Health experts and internet food fiends alike began denouncing claims coconut oil has any legitimate health benefits, while others continue to insist it’s good for you.

Long story short: Coconut oil has joined the ranks with butter and cottage cheese. Foods which were first promoted as being healthy then slammed for their unhealthy components, only to become endlessy-debated products nobody can agree on.

A look at fat, salt, and cholesterol

Margarine

Is margarine really healthier than butter? | YelenaYemchuk/iStock/Getty Images

Long before coconut oil had its heyday, butter was added to just about every food on the planet. Then knowledge of saturated fat and its negative effects on the body became more well-known. Fat in general became linked to obesity, heart problems, and an elevated cancer risk. At that point, butter became labeled as a health hazard and “healthy alternatives” took center stage. Enter, margarine — made from vegetable oil and praised for being better for heart health than butter.

Well, that is, until it was revealed not all margarine is created equal. As Mayo Clinic points out, solid margarine contains high levels of trans fat, which elevate blood cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. And with a change in attitude about fats — all hail the rise of avocados and omega-3 fatty acids! — the debate over how unhealthy butter actually is has resurfaced as an on-going argument.

Cottage cheese was handed a similar fate. At one point, it was hailed as a healthy snack — the perfect protein-packed alternative to fatty cheese. Then it became more common knowledge cottage cheese has a  high sodium content which can elevate blood pressure and lead to mounting heart problems. Add in conflicting studies as to whether too much dairy causes cancer, and cottage cheese is now one of those foods nobody can agree on.

Where coconut oil fits into this argument

Coconut oil

Coconut oi| Anna1311/iStock/Getty Images

Like the foods mentioned above, coconut oil has become a heavily-debated product.

For starters, coconut oil gained a reputation as being a weight-loss friendly alternative to other fats. As Healthtime points out, coconut oil is high in medium chain triglycerides — a fatty acid that reportedly boosts your metabolism. The same article says coconut oil helps reduce appetite and can even help you burn calories while you sleep.

Of course, other sources have a polar opposite view. The American Heart Association strenuously insists coconut oil is unhealthy because of the products high levels of saturated fat. And the AHA warns against consuming high quantities of saturated fat because, as we learned with butter, it raises bad cholesterol and therefore leads to a multitude of heart problems.

But here’s one thing everyone agrees on …

Whether a source pinpoints coconut oil as a miracle food or a health hazard, there’s one thing everyone appears to agree on: It should be eaten in moderation.

Like with butter and many other foods, over-eating one specific product just because it’s labeled as a wonder food or weight loss cure isn’t good for your overall health. As Harvard Public Health summarizes, it all comes down to a general, widespread misunderstanding of what constitutes a healthy diet. Going overboard eating a fatty product may have health risks, but eliminating it all together can potentially force you to eat something even more unhealthy altogether.

“We all need to shift our collective nutritional thinking toward an emphasis on food-based, rather than nutrient-based, recommendations,” the article explains. “The fact is, not all fats are bad, and concentrating too much on eliminating ‘fat’ from our diets has, in many cases, led us to replace even healthy fats with sugars and other simple carbohydrate foods that may actually be worse for our health.”

Keep that in mind when the next “it” product bursts onto the scene.

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