“Health should not be forsaken for misinformation or ignorance”
So states a recent letter to the Fiji Times entitled “Myths about Coconut Oil” (see below), with the basic premise that coconut oil is a fat, and therefore unhealthy.
As coconut farmers and virgin coconut oil producer here in Fiji we felt a response was in order to counter this over-simplified argument. The Fiji Times did print our reply – the actual printed version and text follows the original letter submitted.
Today, much more than ever, any information on any subject can quickly become “received wisdom” whether it be correct or not. Our business, and our own lifestyle, is based around organic and healthy produce – we do our research, and you should too !
I am responding to Julie Sutherland’s June 21st letter “Myths of Coconut Oil”. I write in my capacity as a coconut farmer and an organically certified virgin coconut oil producer from Taveuni. I am of course biased.
It is most disappointing to see that in 2021 the amazing traditional “tree of life” still under attack. The “fruits” (coconut meat/ coconut milk/ coconut water/coconut oil) from the coconut palm have been scientifically proven to offer us so many benefits in countering the non-communicable disease (NCD) epidemic, we are now facing in Fiji. Julie unfortunately is, unintentionally, spreading misinformation about coconut oil that was perpetrated by the US soybean lobby starting in the 1980s. It was not until the 1990s when these claims were refuted by research published in the American College of Nutrition (see: Klurfeld D. M. (1991). Tropical oil turmoil. Journal of American College of Nutrition 10 (6), 575-576. 12 1.
With these scientific facts the Asia Pacific Coconut Community started its fight back by getting research done on the nutritional benefits of cooking with coconut oil. As a result, the truth started to come to life and people began changing their mind after becoming properly informed. Read: Mary Enig: Know your Fats.
And yes – all cooking oils are fats.
However, without wanting to get too technical, there are different kinds of fats present in cooking oils. These are basically defined by the length of their fat chains.
Coconut oil is a unique vegetable oil with 50% of the fat chains made up of “medium chain fatty acids” called Lauric oils. The saturated fatty acid present in lauric oils is similar to that found in mother’s milk which protects babies from viral and bacterial infections.
Virgin coconut oil is a natural product that is not altered by its production process. This contrasts with most cooking oils we now import into Fiji in substantial quantities. These imported oils are largely “hydrogenated” – hydrogenating being the processing method commonly used to stabilize vegetable oils. During this process trans-fatty acid is formed. “Trans fats”, as they are called, are not good for your health when eaten in the quantities many of us consume of imported oils – particularly soya bean and palm oil.
As Julie mentions we have a considerable problem with NCD’s in Fiji, caused by 4 factors:
Tobacco use – too much smoking
Physical Activity – Lack of exercise
Unhealthy diet – high in salt, sugar, fat and processed food
Alcohol – drinking too much puts you at higher risk.
“Back in Time” on television documents visually how we previously looked – what happened the last 30 years+? How did we end up in the current NCD crises?
Perhaps we smoke a bit more, perhaps we exercise less, we definitely drink more but the major change is properly in the diet.
I don’t have any statistics for Fiji but international statistics show increase in salt in processed foods to extend shelf life, an explosive increase in sugar consumption much through processed food/sauces/food additives/soft drinks, a marked change in the fats used where natural vegetable oils have decreased and hydrogenated oils have increased in cooking and processed food available ex “tin fish in vegetable oil”.
The conclusion must be to find a solution where we buy and eat more local/more fresh/less processed food and appreciate the food that kept us healthy “Back in Time” – Of Cause it is Ok with improvements.
I welcome the local cooking shows where local produce is promoted and new local concepts are showcased. It is a good thing.
Peter Kjaer Pacific Produce Pte Ltd P.O. Box 52 Taveuni Fiji M: +679 9224059