Sales of coconut petroleum are rocketing, propelled by celebrity endorsements and claims that drinking the stuff will cure everything from bad breath to digestive ailments.
Actress Angelina Jolie-Pitt is said to have a tablespoon or so with her breakfast most mornings, while model Miranda Kerr says she not only adds it to salads and smoothies, but she cooks with it and splashes it on her skin as well.
The health claims that vortex around coconut petroleum be dealt with a great deal of scepticism by scientists.
If anything coconut oil is ensure, in the scientific community, as an unhealthy fat. It is very high in saturated fat (8 6 %), even more so than butter( 51%) or lard( 39% ).
The reason that foods rich in saturated fats are frowned on is because feeing them causes an increase in blood levels of LDL( low density lipoprotein ).
LDL is known as “bad cholesterol” because high levels are linked with increased risk of heart disease.
On the other hand, saturated fats – which are particularly bad for you – also tend to raise HDL, “good” cholesterol, which has the opposite consequence. It is possible that a particular food can raise overall cholesterol levels, yet still be heart-friendly.
So is coconut oil a cholesterol-busting wonder food, as some assert, or is this all dangerous hype?
Despite all the sound and frenzy that surrounds coconut petroleum there have been surprisingly few human studies carried out to test specific health claims.
So for the present BBC2 series of Trust Me I’m a Doctor, we thought we should help organise a trial.
The Trust Me team started by contacting Prof Kay-Tee Khaw and Prof Nita Forouhi, both eminent Cambridge academics.
With their help we recruited 94 volunteers, aged 50 -7 5 and with no history of diabetes or heart disease, and designed a study to assess what effect eating different types of fat would have on their cholesterol levels.
We began by randomly allocating our volunteers to one of three groups. Every day for four weeks, the first was asked to eat 50 g of extra virgin coconut oil – that’s about three tablespoons full.
The second group was asked to consume the same sum of extra virgin olive oil.
Olive oil is a key element of the Mediterranean diet, which is widely seen as being extremely healthy.
And the third was asked to eat 50 g of unsalted butter a day. Again, that adds up to merely over three tablespoons.
The volunteers were told that they could ingest these fats in whatever style they pleased, as long as they did so every day for the whole four weeks.