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Coconut oil as poison? Why are chocolate, chips, colas not called pure poison?

Rujuta Diwekar

The West in general and the US, in particular, will stumble upon a ‘novel’ Food and then it is everywhere, in their cuppa as bulletproof coffee, in their blueberry pastry as a vegan dessert, or even as a shot to drink first thing in the morning to kick start metabolism. Yeah, that’s the pedestal that coconut oil was until last week and this is after being non-existent in their food chain until 10 years ago.

Not just coconut oil, staple foods from developing economies have often caught the fancy of the developed world because of their nutrients – medium chain triglycerides in case of coconut, protein for quinoa, antioxidants for turmeric. Some paperwork, few lab studies, the right pitches to the mainstream media and this novel food is then everywhere, dominating the health food stores, social media feeds and kitchen cabinets. It is basically the answer to every problem you have had until of course, it is not. The recent coconut oil controversy aside, this cycle will continue till we look at food from the nutrient point of view, and only that.

Its easier said than done of course. Studying and knowing food from only the nutrient point of view is good for business and the food industry is well entrenched in our education system. A nutrition grad or post-grad invest 3-5 years in the study of food as nothing but its nutrients and calories. A doctor studies the same thing but over a single semester and everyone giving you food, the advice is now on the same page. What is left out of syllabus is crop cycle, climate, regional cuisines. So are agriculture, economy, ecology. This way you have zero exposure and understanding of the real environment you will be working in. You step out of college, you rehash the info you learned from college and advice people accordingly and the mainstream media is backing you too.

So no one blinked an eyelid when in the 70s, you were asked to go off coconut for cholesterol, ghee for saturated fat and put on refined vegetable oils instead. 40 years later, refined vegetable oils are toxic and you should go back to coconut and ghee and then don’t, its poison. Well, I will tell you what is poison, the mentality to reduce food to nutrients and then adopting or rejecting it. Michael Pollan calls it nutritionism, it’s the systemic vilification of food so that food companies may profit while public health suffers.

In an increasingly global world just like we unite against racism, sexism, and ageism, we should even against nutritionism. We should eat foods because they are native to our land, are culturally compliant and are in season. And eat them in multiple ways we have learned to. In case of coconut, it would mean – when its tender you drink its water, when its ripe you use as a garnish or as stuffing in delicacies, use dry coconut in laddoos and barfis and the oil for cooking if you are in Kerala or are a Malayali. (By the way, Kerala which is known for its consumption of coconut has a healthy ageing population, most number of people in 90s as compared to rest of India.)

As for saturated fat, the science is out there. There is no evidence to conclusively link saturated fat to heart disease but there is plenty to link consumption of ultra-processed and packaged food to obesity and host of other diseases including heart diseases. Ever read a headline that read chocolate, chips, colas are pure poison? I haven’t yet.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

via TOI Blog

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Coconut oil as poison? Why are chocolate, chips, colas not called pure poison?


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