Following statements by Harvard epidemiologist Karin Michels at a lecture on nutrition that coconut oil is “pure poison” and “one of the worst foods you can eat,” India has clapped back, calling Michels’ statement “unsubstantiated and inconsiderate.”
B.N. Srinivasa Murthy, India’s horticulture commissioner, wrote a letter to the professor, which has been obtained by the Washington Post, asking that the dean “take the corrective measures and retract the comments,” as she had made “negative statements against the revered crop of billions.”
Coconut oil is a dietary staple in the Asian country, particularly in the southern areas.
The lecture was brought up at a conference in Bangkok in August where the Asia Pacific Coconut Community – a gathering involving officials from 18 different countries – met up.
Murthy expressed that he couldn’t understand what had compelled Michels to make that statement.
In the past decade, coconut oil went from being a relatively unknown cooking substance to a “superfood” that sparked a worldwide craze over the cooking staple in 2011. Now it has been denounced as poison.
The superfood craze saw coconut oil becoming part of the cooking routine, from the oil used in dishes instead of using other cooking oils, to being blended into breakfast smoothies.
But just last year, the American Heart Association advised people to stop using coconut oil. The substance is high in saturated fats, which is the leading cause of heart disease. It is also harmful to people who already have high cholesterol levels, as it raises the amount of harmful cholesterol in the body.
Rajesh Muralidharan, a cardiologist in Kerala, India, was frustrated by Michels’ statements because he knew that his patients would have more questions for him that he would be unable to answer.
“The answer is that we don’t have an answer. What we try to tell them is all oils have fat and to use as little as possible. Our ancestors have been using this for ages. It’s something in the blood, the taste of coconut oil.”
Michels has not responded to the request from the Indian people to retract her statements, and Harvard’s School of Public Health also declined to comment on the matter.
V.S. Sunil Kumar, Kerala’s minister of agriculture, also plans to write a letter to the professor regarding her statements.
“Our lived experience is that coconut oil is not a poison,” he said. “Without coconut, there is no life in Kerala. That is true.”