I got 99 problems – but a grain ain’t one

I’ve been channelling Alf Stewart again.  It’s something that comes over me at times of intense frustration – like when my children decide to barge through the toilet door the moment I have closed it and sat down… or in this case it’s when celebrity chefs decide they need to reeducate the nation about feeding their families.  Not according to evidence-based guidelines developed by research bodies throughout the world, but according to their own skewed beliefs and practices.

The Almonds are activated! (Image: Sunday Life, The Australian)

The Almonds are activated! I repeat: The almonds are activated! (Image: Sunday Life)

If you haven’t yet heard, Celebrity chef Pete Evans’ latest bit of Facebook grandstanding has him promising to bring his version of healthy eating into schools across Australia – and his Facebook fans – the anti-dietititian brigade – can barely contain themselves.  He hasn’t yet told us what exactly his ‘Healthy School Lunches’ program will entail, but if we are to go by his recent spot in the Australian (‘6 foods I never stock at home’), it might look something like this:

No grains.  That means goodbye to the humble sandwich and sushi roll (sorry mum). This also extends to meat that was fed grains, in case you’re wondering.

No dairy.  Because apparently no-one in his family can digest it.  And sorry (!) but soy alternatives such as tofu and soy milk are also bad for us  – proving 130 million Japanese resoundingly clueless.

No sugar (Pete goes into convulsions at the mere mention of sugar).  That seemingly innocent combination of glucose and fructose apparently causes all manner of physical and psychological disturbances, according to…. well… him.  But don’t fear, because pure maple syrup and raw honey are tickety-boo.

No vegetable oils.  Pete reckons vegetable oils are toxic.

Gee, that’s quite a bit there on the bad list Pete.  So which foods does he give his blessing to?

Nuts and seeds.  I’m right here with you Pete – these are great foods.  Activate away!

Fibrous organic vegetables.  Awesome.  Fibre is good.  Organic is nice.. if you have the funds.  We should probably all eat more vegetables.

Herbs and spices and naturally fermented foods.  No argument here.  Hey -I wonder if the sludgey banana I found at the bottom of my daughter’s bag would count as a naturally fermented superfood?!

Organic, free range, 100% pasteurised meat, poultry and eggs and hand-caught salmon from sustainable waters.   These are all good things.  Very expensive good things.  But here’s where the value judgements start to creep in – because surely if we just cared enough about our family, we’d all scrape around and find the money to eat organic?    

Coconut oil. Yes of course coconut oil.  Coconut oil is so hot right now. Because of it’s high smoke point right? (see what I did there) and it’s apparent lack of ‘toxicity’.  He also allows virgin olive oil at times, but favours lard and tallow as healthy cooking options at home.  Mmmm…

What about fruit? I hear you ask.  Fruit didn’t rate a mention – evidently it wasn’t downright evil enough to make the naughty list, or pure enough to make the nice list.  Does that mean I should give up practicing my apple swan lunch box art?  Humph.


Now you’re probably thinking at this point – gee she’s really got her knickers in a knot over this one.  And yes, this is out of character for a dietitian who isn’t usually very dietitian-like about food.  It takes a bit for me to get my hackles up, but man they’re up.  My inner Alf Stewart (in his gravelly tones) has been baiting me:  ‘C’mon girly – are you gonna let that dingbat with his flamin’ activated almonds get away with this rot?’

No Alf.  I won’t stand for it.  I’m going to clamber up onto my soap-box and let rip.  Here goes..

As a dietiitan, I see people every week who are utterly bamboozled by conflicting dietary advice.  They no longer know who to believe, and many have lost the instinct which tells them whether they’re hungry or full.  Guilt is a big theme.  They ask me about the 5:2 diet, whether they should Quit Sugar or detox, and whether dairy is good or bad.  The ones who eat well are also taking spirulina and popping vitamins, and the ones who eat crap don’t don’t really give a crap.so hot right now

I’m very familiar with actual food allergies/intolerances and the restrictive and socially isolating diets that some need to follow.   Food allergy sucks.  Coeliac disease is not fun. And food intolerance symptoms can be genuinely distressing.  But I’m also encountering more and more clients who appear to be hiding their frankly disordered eating habits behind the veil of food intolerance or ‘special’ requirements.

Like the woman I saw recently, who over ten years, had whittled her diet down to only eggs (6-8/day), cream and butter, pork, chicken and lamb.  She avoided all grains and all fruits and vegetables except potato (which she fried in duck fat) and banana (100g/day).  Her blood cholesterol was a whopping 19mmol.  But in the immediate future she needed a psychologist more than she needed a dietitian.

And I suppose that’s why I get so worked up about diets that are all about restriction, and self-appointed ‘experts’ like Pete, who advocate them.  They promote the idea that eating to a certain formula will make you better, cleaner, stronger.  Through mainstream and social media, they subtly pervade the public conscious, encouraging confusion and needless anxiety around food.which diet?

Do we want to teach our kids that foods have either good or bad moral values?  Do we want to risk strengthening the foundation for disordered eating, in those who are most vulnerable?  As the mother of a nearly eight year-old daughter, the idea terrifies me.  And I wonder if the thousands who ‘like’ and ‘share’ Pete’s grandiose school lunch plans have really thought this through?

Pete obviously has passion for what he does – and that’s great for him, and the upwardly mobile, alternative-aligned punters with whom the paleo movement resonates.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.  He’s a TV chef with nutrition qualifications from an ‘Institute Of Wellness’, and quite frankly, he’s no Jamie Oliver.

I prefer a bit of common sense and moderation, myself.  I learn from my colleagues, who blog with intelligence and perspective – like Dr Tim Crowe from http://www.thinkingnutrition.com.au – who presents the science in lovely bite-sized, helpful chunks.  And http://www.thenutritionguruandthechef.com – a breath of fresh air in cyberspace in the form of no-nonsense, cut-the-crap good food.

So how about we all just calm down (that’s you included Alf), practice a bit of moderation, and agree that different styles of eating suit different people.  If we cook real food at home, eat plenty of plants, eat less processed food and stop when we’re full, I figure that’s a pretty good start.

(now if you’ll excuse me – I’m just popping down to the shops for some organic free range offal and giant mushrooms to make this paleo burger for the kids lunch tomorrow)

45 thoughts on “I got 99 problems – but a grain ain’t one

  1. Couldn’t agree more Marnie! Just another example of people craving fame and making money by enticing fear and anxiety, self doubt, and more fear, in others. Sad. And annoying for any health professional trying to advise people of healthy behaviours. And by health professional, I don’t mean celebrity chef.

  2. Very interesting and timely, Marn. Mind you, if it wasn’t for the ‘I quit sugar’ business and the like, I would never have started making my frankly awesome choccy-nut balls that we are hoofing at a rate of knots! Your pork and bananas lady sounds like she needs some help, but for folk with their feet on the ground (like me, I hope), then there are some interesting ideas mixed in among the bollocks. But yes… guilt is one thing we do not need to be feeling about food. Please keep blogging on this subject. I love your take. Ilks

  3. Thanks Ilks. I agree wholeheartedly – it wouldn’t hut a lot of us (myself included) to eat less sugar and processed food. I just don’t go in for the ‘banning’ approach. I think it’s counteractive and reactionary. And as for the anti-grain movement that ‘wellness coaches’ are spruking – what a load of old cobblers!

  4. totally agree with you, sure we would all love to buy organic freshly caught salmon but it unrealistic to think that thats what everyone can afford or even like. I think the biggest thing to try and get away from is too much processed food. Great read xx

  5. Love it and sad that when Pete Evan’s day in the sun is shortly over, there will be another to replace him. There is something that can be learned for how they sell their message so well though, but part of me believes that there will also be a core group of people that will never be persuaded that nutrition isn’t just one food/nutrient as the cause of all our health problems and eliminating it solves it. The basics of good eating are pretty simple and encourage a large degree of flexibility, applying them is another matter. Thanks for the blog mention – means a lot that it is of value to you and all provided without a cookbook, supplements or line of coconut oil provided for sale on the website to be seen!

  6. YOU. ARE. AWESOME. I’m on somewhat of a dietetic sabbatical, having moved to the States, where my Australian quals count for zilch. But I have to say, that I haven’t been sad to step away from my private practice in Sydney. It is simple as you say at the end…moderation, plant foods, stop when you are full….full stop. But nobody wants to hear this. That’s fine. But what worries me most, is this absolute preoccupation with food that everybody seems to have…it just ranks of disordered eating and makes me sick to the stomach. We’ve seen it all before though, fat paranoia of the 90’s. Some people are still trying to overcome that. And now sugar, gluten and veg oil is thrown into the mix. Fresh air anyone? I feel like throwing in my towel as a dietitian. What people need is psychologists more than us (in certain suburbs anyway).

  7. You are far too aware Marn, clearly not the demographic those publishing editors are aiming at when they print Pete’s work. And, also, you know, Pete isn’t even good looking, so i don’t know why he’s so popular. (you go with Alf, I’ll channel Cher from cluless)

    Also everyone, most importantly, i just wanted to bring my fav. Alf quote to your attention:

    [Don is given the wrong olympic torch] “Don! Stop! It’s the wrong flamin’ flame!”

  8. Well said and totally agree. People are getting brainwashed. What they think sounds healthy is in fact not a healthy way of living. Moderation is and will always be the key.

  9. excellent article. Regarding fruits though, I notice Chef Pete is on tour with other self appointed nutrition experts such as my old mate Gary Fettke, so you can count on him making sure everyone’s scared to eat more than one grape a day for fear of the insulin response. Seriously… when a friggin BANANA is not considered a “healthy enough” choice of snack for these people, and the public are made to feel guilty & ashamed of any enjoyable meal or snack choices as if it proves they’re “not doing life right” or something… it’s ridiculous. Promotion of these ideas (aka orthorexia nervosa) ruins people’s lives, leading to physicial and mental illness and more destructive forms of eating disotder. Something needs to be done. Well done for speaking out.

  10. Hope you don’t mind if I quote you! Brightened my day and made me glad I’m spending it preparing a lecture to give next week on the confusion caused by those who think all the world’s ills will be solved by manipulating our carbs and activating our nuts. Thank you.

    • Wow! Hello Rosemary! How lovely of you to comment.
      You were actually on my mind when I wrote this, as I’ve always loved your common sense take on nutrition messages. That’s just made my day a little bit ! 🙂

  11. It was definitely an interesting read – but I have to say I can’t agree with you entirely. I think some dietitians have missed the point and are feeling a bit threatened by the likes of Pete Evans and the paleo movement. I feel that you and others are arguing the wrong points.

    I don’t subscribe to paleo living, so I’ll just say that up front. My main reason is that I don’t feel that our bodies should consume as much meat as the paleo diet advises, and I don’t think that legumes or grains should be completely taken off the menu.

    However some of the things that you say in your objections are a bit strange. Like the whole organic food thing – why can’t dietitians be advocating for organic non-GM food as much as the paleo people? There is nothing healthy about cows being fed grains (not their natural diet) or GM wheat being grown and proliferating our diets, causing unknown (or starting to be known) responses in the human body. Did you know that the type of wheat grown and consumed now did not exist 40 years ago? If there was more of a push for organic and sustainably produced food then it wouldn’t be so “upwardly mobile, alternative-aligned”. Funny that the foods eaten on paleo used to be just plain old peasant food grown without fancy chemicals and scientific proof. Dietitians saying that we shouldn’t eat organic because its too expensive just seems weird to me.

    The connection between sugar and all manner of physical disturbances actually has a lot of scientific backing. Because you know, food is all about science… Dietitians also advocate for limiting sugar but don’t want to be seen as the bad parent so we’re allowed to have a little bit. Well, paleo says if you’re going to occasionally eat sugar, best to go for honey and maple syrup which also provide nutrients like calcium, magnesium and potassium, and honey also has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Why have I seen so many people against the “I Quit Sugar” thing? It’s actually not the same as paleo and surely anyone trying to help people kick this highly addictive substance that also proliferates our food, is promoting a good thing?

    The dairy thing – there are lots of people, more and more all the time (not just Pete Evans), who have issues with dairy. I think its more to do with the processing of it than the food itself. You agree that we should all try to cut out processed foods, under which I feel dairy fits! Also, if humans are in fact supposed to drink another animal’s milk, why does it have to be pasteurised and homogenised and have half the nutrients stripped out and then a few good ones put back in so that it still has health benefits? With adequate refrigeration and, if cows are allowed to live and eat as cows should, then what is wrong with the stuff that comes straight from the old girl?

    Soy is one of the most debated foods in the world, however studies have shown that the isoflavones found in soy can activate and/or inhibit estrogen receptors in the body, which can disrupt the body’s normal function. I don’t think people have been given the full heads up on the possible issues around soy consumption, particularly in the quantities that we are exposed to (just look at any food label!). 130 million Japanese may eat soy, but they have only recently begun drinking soy milk. Traditionally soy milk was only used for cooking.

    I don’t agree with “no grains”, but I disagree with the way our food industry uses the same 3 grains (wheat, soy & corn) in nearly every food imaginable. I think if we were to eat grains at the rate at which they (naturally) grow, then they would not cause the issues they do on so many people’s bodies. Also my above point about the type of wheat grown now, did not exist 40 years ago. We are now seeing a whole range of health issues that can be linked to the consumption of wheat and glutinous grains.

    Vegetable oils are toxic when heated because they oxidise. Many are grown with genetically modified products (especially canola). Coconut oil’s high smoke point enables cooking without the risk of oxidisation. There are many other health benefits of coconut oil too.

    Your last little quip about eating an offal burger was a bit much for me. At least the paleo diet looks at the whole animal and encourages people to be responsible in their consumption of animals. Which dietitian would actually tell me that people shouldn’t eat offal? Personally I can’t stand the thought of eating offal, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that we should be eating the whole animal where possible, and that offal is incredibly nutritious.

    • Hey prefer-to-remain-anon! Thanks for taking the time to outline your take on my post so extensively. I appreciate your relatively measured response – in the face of my huffing and puffing and somewhat facetious take on the whole business of restrictive eating practices.
      I have heard all of the above arguments about dairy, GMO, sugar and gluten before – and I respect that everyone is entitled to an opinion. I would argue that the ‘science’ you refer to is not of the conventionally accepted variety, and the studies used to back up these arguments are generally not from large, well designed and controlled studies in peer-reviewed journals. I certainly don’t argue that organic foods are a bad thing at all – but most would agree that the kind of diet Pete Evans advocates is not only well beyond the financial means of most average Australian families – it is also just so much more complex and stringent than healthy eating needs to be. I’m seeing the products in my consulting rooms every week, and it’s frightening.

      • Thanks Marnie for an interesting read. I’ve also enjoyed reading the comments. I’m always a bit baffled by the ‘it’s too expensive’ argument?
        I am not an advocate one way of another for a particular diet…..my Mum always said things like “If your grandma wouldn’t recognise it…..maybe don’t eat it”….and that’s how I tend to eat. Wheat products seem to make my belly swell to four or five times its usual size, so I avoid them because I don’t like the feeling.
        As for the pricing however…..I shop at farmer’s markets where the price for fruit and veggies is ridiculously CHEAP. This morning, for example, I paid 30c for six tomatoes…..and $7 for 21 free-range eggs. Last week, my neighbour and I shared in 20kg of slightly damaged butternut pumpkins for $5…..let’s just say I have soup for weeks! When I see what people buy at supermarkets in packets & boxes and cartons and tubes……I can’t imagine that those items come cheaper than just plain old fruit and veggies, which seems to be at least a part of what Pete is advocating for? It hurts my heart to pay Woolworths prices for any item…..but millions of Australians seem to have no problem with this. I’m not confused about food…..but I feel confused about this pricing/we can’t afford to eat healthily vibe?
        Thanks again for the read.

      • Hi Imelda. I’m such a fan of farmers markets, buying local, and eating food in season. I think it’s one of the best ways to teach kids about real food. Absolutely no argument! And even better – a veggie patch in the back garden.
        For many families, however, the supermarket is a pretty convenient option – given the pace of life these days. For working parents with lots of after school and weekend commitments, paying slightly more to be able to pick up everything in the one stop is practical, and not the worst thing in the world. Fruit and veg from Woolies or Coles are still fruit and veggies, in my book. The most pressing problem is that most Australians just aren’t eating enough fruit and vegetables. I think our first priority should be to fix that!

    • Hi Anonymous
      I am keen on organically grown foods – and offer my own garden plus stuff I do with Stephanie Alexander’s kitchen garden program and the Organic Gardens in schools as evidence, so I have no argument there.

      I’m less inclined to give up wheat because different strains are grown these days. The same argument would apply to vegetables, fruits, poultry, meat and other grains, so we’d have a lean time of it. I do hope the blue-green lentils I prefer are not ‘new’.

      My own take on paleo diets is that followers should also live in caves, give up the electronic devices and kill their own meat…I won’t continue with that line of thought.

      You’re right that maple syrup (if it’s the genuine article) has some calcium (89-109 mg/100g) and potassium (212-271mg/100g), but it’s not too good for magnesium (with just 19-21mg/100g). I can only find general figures for honey which has depressingly low levels of these nutrients. However, the official figures probably apply to the blended stuff in supermarkets rather than the more flavoursome stuff direct from beekeepers and it may well be that has more. Do you have any data

      I did take some issue with bit about heated oils though. Oils do need to be fresh – and should be kept in dark bottles (as is the case with Australian olive oils) in a cool place. However, the smoke point argument needs some clarifying. A recent test on an Aust extra virgin olive oil found a smoke point of 210C – somewhat higher than organic unrefined coconut oil. I don’t actually recommend taking any oil near its smoke point in a home kitchen – takes too long to clear the greasy surfaces that result. It’s also hard to find too many decent studies backing any great virtues of coconut oil, but I keep an open mind on that one. May need to replicate the conditions in PukaPuka and Tokelau from the 1960s when the diet consisted largely of coconut (the flesh not extracted oil) plus breadfruit or taro, octopus, fish and bananas and the people were healthy (and not obese).

      With grains, how about we follow the DGs and go for wholegrains. That wipes out the cheezels, coco pops, biscuits, cakes and junk stuff.

  12. Thanks for your reply, Marnie.
    I agree that for some, shopping at Woolworths
    /Coles is a choice re: convenience. For many though……it is exactly that…..a choice, not an absolute necessity. If people can afford to pay absolute top dollar for items for the sake of convenience, then surely the “it’s all too expensive” argument doesn’t really have that much weight? Just my thoughts on it!
    Totally agree with getting Australians eating more fruit and veggies…….it seems to me that at least part of what Pete suggests is a large volume of veggies…….so for some Aussies, Paleo may be better than their existing diet, though not ideal.
    I wonder what the solution is? It seems that no matter how much there is in mass media re Australia’s collective health & obesity problems, the general populous can’t be swayed to alter their habits. Sadly it seems like it takes a health scare to make a person voluntarily feed themselves food which is good for them! 😦

  13. Your article cracked me up! I had a good chuckle at the fermented banana as I have plenty of fermented foods (at least I hope its food) in the crevices of my kids car seats…I am sure it would make Pete proud!

    • Oh yes it doesn’t end with the school bag does it? Have you checked the school lost property bins – they are a hotbed of fermented food products! Thanks Teri 😉

  14. Thanks Marni and Rosemary for replying to my post. I do enjoy a healthy, respectful debate. I’m not going to nitpick on some of the finer points as we could be here all year talking about little details.

    However I thought I’d share some studies in response to a few of the issues raised (and because Rosemary asked me if I had any data).

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21524711 Anaerobe. 2011 Dec;17(6):375-9. doi: 10.1016/j.anaerobe.2011.03.012. Epub 2011 Apr 16. Antibacterial activity of different honeys against pathogenic bacteria.

    Archives of Medical Research. 2005 Sep-Oct;36(5):464-7.Bactericidal activity of different honeys against pathogenic bacteria.

    Biotechnology Research International. 2011;2011:917505. doi: 10.4061/2011/917505. Epub 2010 Dec 29. Antibacterial efficacy of raw and processed honey.

    Pediatr Reports. 2013 Jun 20;5(2):31-4. doi: 10.4081/pr.2013.e8. Print 2013 Jun 13.
    Feasibility study: honey for treatment of cough in children. The World Health Organization identifies honey as a potential demulcent treatment for cough.

    Regarding coconut oil, vegetable oils (not olive) etc. here are a few studies you may be interested in.
    New insights into the health effects of dietary saturated and omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids
    The introduction of this article provides several links to other studies and of particular interest “the validity of meta-analyses of clinical trials showing that CVD can be prevented by replacing Saturated Fatty Acids with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) has been questioned”.

    Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation
    Clinical Biochemistry Volume 37, Issue 9, September 2004, Pages 830–835

    Lipids, July 2009, Volume 44, Issue 7, pp 593-601 Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity

    This one provides a review of several studies on the benefits of medium chain fatty acids (found in coconut oil) that you might be interested in.
    Physiological Effects of Medium Chain Triglycerides: Potential Agents in the Prevention of Obesity. Journal of Nutrition. March 1, 2002 vol. 132 no. 3 329-332.

    Influence of medium-chain and long-chain triacylglycerols on the control of food intake in men. Am J Clin Nutr August 1998 vol. 68 no. 2 226-234

    And just one last one which I though was interesting is looking at organic dairy vs conventional dairy. A large, US wide study published in a peer reviewed journal.
    Organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting fatty acid composition: a United States-wide, 18-month study.
    PLoS One. 2013 Dec 9;8(12):e82429. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082429. eCollection 2013.

    The above study about dairy doesn’t have anything to do with the paleo debate but it does contribute to the conversation about organic foods, and adds to the debate about full fat dairy vs low fat.

    You may wonder why I am responding to this and why I prefer to remain anonymous? (Well you may not but I’ll tell you anyway just in case you’re curious!). I work in health promotion (B.Sc. (Health Sciences) M.Ind.Health), and we promote the messages of the Australian dietary guidelines in our “Healthy Weight” programs. For about a decade I have been challenged by the claims of various “alternative” diets. I have looked into some of these claims further and I’ve been finding some interesting information that actually makes a lot of sense. Simultaneously I have been trying to find answers to progressive “mystery” symptoms within my own body. Thousands of people seem to have found relief from similar symptoms by following the paleo diet. As I said earlier, I don’t subscribe to paleo, but I feel that there is some validity in it, and I am trying to reconcile what I have learned through my studies, and what I have observed and discovered in recent times. I feel that there still needs to be debate. I also feel that dietitians need to look into the claims being made, not just try to debunk them, and not just blame people for not eating enough fruit and vegetables, and not knowing when to stop eating.

    If we took Pete Evans out of the picture (most celebrity chefs make food very complicated don’t they? That’s why the Women’s Weekly cookbooks do so well – plain old home cooked food!), the paleo diet is not complicated or expensive. It’s meat and three veg for dinner, fish and salad or steamed vegies for lunch, eggs with mushrooms, spinach and maybe some bacon for breakfast, all with a good dose of fats like avocado, olive oil and/or coconut oil. Chicken soup, Sunday roast, and omelettes. All easy fare, if not a little boring. Good thing there are people like Pete Evans to spice things up a bit.

    Sorry this is so long again!

    • Hi prefer to remain anon
      This is probably a bit much for a Friday night post, and probably too detailed for this blog, but as you so kindly supplied references, I though I should at least read them.

      I have no problem with the bactericidal effects some types of honey – well supported by evidence and indeed I’ve written about that very topic. My comment referred to your statement about honey providing calcium, potassium and magnesium. Not much there, I’m afraid.

      Nor do I have a problem in the evidence suggesting the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats is important, as pointed out by your reference to Michel de Lorgeril and Patricia Salen’s paper noting once again, the benefits of Mediterranean diets. I am most familiar with these authors and have spent much of my life examining such diets. Hence my recommendation to use extra virgin olive oil.

      With coconut oil, I keep searching for some evidence of its value so I read your references (it was a re-read for some).

      The first study you quoted (Nevin in Clinical Biochemistry, 2004) was a comparison between copra oil and virgin coconut oil given to rats for 45 days. The virgin coconut oil appears to be preferable, although I don’t have access to that journal to read the full article. I wouldn’t be quoting this one as showing great benefits for humans.

      The second study (Assuncao et al Lipids 2009) involved 20 obese women given 30 mL of coconut oil a day for 12 weeks with a control group using 30 mL of soy bean oil. Although the authors claimed it was double blind, that’s a bit hard to swallow since coconut oil has a rather distinctive taste. The abstract claims a higher level of HDL cholesterol and a lower LDL;HDL ratio in the coconut group but the confidence intervals shows neither of these were significant. Without access to the whole paper and with no confidence intervals given for claimed differences in waist circumference, it is impossible to assess the validity of that claim, but it doesn’t sound all that reasonable when no difference in BMI occurred between the two small groups. Altogether a bit underwhelming, but thanks for bringing it to my attention as I admit I had missed it.

      The next one St-Onge & Jones (Journal of Nutrition 2002) I had previously seen. It deals with the different effects of medium chain fatty acids vs those with longer chains. Medium chain fatty acids are defined in this paper as having 6-12 carbons. The review looks at short term trials using liquid formula diets, but does include one that used butter, coconut oil or tallow. Unfortunately, it didn’t show anything, which was not surprising since each of the foods contained rather a lot of fatty acids that were not medium chain. So nothing too amazing or relevant to coconut oil there. Perhaps the real problem is the definition of ‘medium chain fatty acids’. Those promoting coconut oil take MCTs as having chains with 6-12 carbon atoms, whereas standard textbooks take MCTs as chains with 6-10 carbons. The first definition would give coconut oil an MCT content of 63% (with another – significant – 27% provided by palmitic and myristic acids plus a small amount of stearic) whereas the standard definition would take coconut oil as 15% MCT.

      The next article you referenced (Van Wymelbeke V et al – AJCN 1998) looked at 12 healthy normal weight young men and gave them different breakfasts based on pasta with a fat substitute or 40g olive oil or 42 g lard or 40g 43g of MCT oil. The MCT oil breakfast resulted in the men eating fewer calories at lunchtime than occurred with the breakfasts, although there was no significant difference (taking the confidence intervals into statistical consideration) with the olive oil breakfast. As this study was small and used no coconut oil and instead used an MCT oil with 98.5% 8 or 10 carbon fatty acids only (very unlike the composition of coconut oil which has about 15%), I can’t help but wonder if the coconut oil enthusiasts actually read the paper.

      There is some evidence that lauric acid will increase HDL as well as LDL cholesterol – making a high lauric acid product like coconut oil better than, say, butter. But that doesn’t make coconut oil ‘good’. Like everything else, I see no need to avoid coconut, but nor have I yet found evidence to push it. I’ll keep watching the literature.

      Have a good weekend.

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