The recent American Heart Association recommendations on saturated fats ripped through the news headlines like a hot knife through butter: “Coconut Oil Isn’t Healthy; It’s Never Been Healthy”.
In the moments and days to follow, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets were ablaze with heated debate over American favorite “alternative” oil.
At the clinic, we were fielding questions left and right about whether coconut oil, and other saturated fats, raise cholesterol and cause heart disease.
After all, we have been staunch advocates of a low-carb, low-sugar diet rich in healthy, traditional fats…including the now “AHA-debunked” coconut oil.
And, like the American Heart Association—who has stood by their condemnation of saturated fats like, coconut oil for the last 60+ years—we stand by OUR recommendation that coconut oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat…
…provided it is consumed in appropriate amounts as part of a healthy diet.
The key words being “appropriate amounts” and “healthy diet”.
What do we mean by that?
Read on find out why we proudly reject the AHA’s erroneous claims about coconut oil causing heart disease, and still recommend it to most of our clients.
Is Coconut Oil Healthy? Why You Shouldn’t Believe What the AHA Tells You…
Though I won’t waste too much time belittling the American Heart Association, I do think you deserve to know why they can’t be trusted to deliver unbiased nutritional recommendations.
I will illustrate my point by using a few key examples of the corruption, deceit, and special interests that fuel their association:
First of all, the AHA is the exact same organization who recommended all Americans eat a high-carb, low-fat diet including hydrogenated vegetable oils (in the form of margarine) to prevent heart disease.
And we all know how that turned out.
Heart disease is more rampant than EVER, rivaling cancer as our nation’s #1 killer.
Sugar is now officially recognized as a huge contributor to heart disease (thanks in-part to a 2016 expose on how Harvard scientist were paid off by the sugar industry to point the blame of heart disease at fat when sugar was the real culprit all along[i]).
Not to mention (but I will) the debacle that is hydrogenated oils…set to be banned in all states by 2018 due to their deadly affects on heart health.
Further, the board members lording over the AHA include individuals from special interest groups like the Canola oil industry.
I will save my rant on Canola oil for another post.
But suffice it to say, highly-processed, ultra-refined vegetable oils once considered inedible because of their heart-damaging effects, have no place in a heart-healthy diet (which should be obvious by the fact heart disease is still killing millions despite our high intake of Canola and other vegetable oils).
To sum up my short-list of reasons you should think twice before believing anything the AHA says (and this is a short list compared to rebuttals written by my colleagues), they have absolutely ZERO comparative studies to back up their claims that coconut oil causes heart disease.
Zero, zilch, nada. They even admitted it in their statement, saying they didn’t look at “clinical trials that compared direct effects on cardiovascular disease of coconut oil and other dietary oils.”
But they were half right about one thing: coconut oil CAN increase your cholesterol levels…and that’s not necessarily a BAD thing.
Let’s get into that now.
Yes, Coconut Oil Raises Cholesterol Levels…But Not in the Negative Way You Think
First, while drug ads would have you believe differently, studies have proven cholesterol levels are a poor indicator of heart disease[ii].
However, it is true that some forms of cholesterol can lead to hardening of arteries….but it’s not the form you may think.
You see, we have all been taught there are two types of cholesterol: HDL “the good” and LDL “the bad”.
But the truth is, there is more than one form of LDL cholesterol…and not all those forms are considered “bad”.
The first form is a larger “fluffy” particle LDL that actually protects your arteries from hardening. A 1998 study by American Society for Clinical Nutrition proved a diet higher in saturated fats increase this larger form of LDL[iii], and that’s a good thing.
The second type of LDL are smaller particles…these are the ones you don’t want as they build up and cause plaques.
And if you eat a healthy diet—more on what “healthy” means to follow—coconut oil will not increase small-particle LDL levels, just the larger LDL and the beneficial HDL.
So yes, coconut oil can in fact be beneficial for your cholesterol.
The key to reaping its health benefits lies in your diet…
The “Healthy Diet” Contingency on Coconut Oil
I hate to break to you, but, if you eat the Standard American Diet—high in carbs, sugar, grains, and processed foods and low in vegetables, fiber, and nutrient-rich foods—coconut oil (and other saturated fats) should not be a part of your diet.
Because coconut oil’s benefits can only be reaped within the context of a diet rich in fiber, vegetables, protein, and other traditional foods.
Consume it alongside a carb-heavy, sugary, nutrient-devoid diet and it could wind up raising those troublesome small LDL particles.
Which poses a problem, as many people want to believe they can continue eating whatever they want so long as they supplement with healthy foods, like coconut oil.
Sadly, this is not the case.
If your diet is not focused on low-carb, nutrient-dense foods, you would be better off avoiding coconut oil, and other saturated fats, until you can upgrade your nutrition.
Case in point, traditional cultures, like the Inuit, consumed a diet extremely high in saturated fats yet had virtually NO heart disease…until Western foods were introduced. The two approaches just don’t mix.
The good news is, if you are committed to a truly “healthy diet” of real, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, moderate amounts of fruits, cultured foods, protein, nuts and seeds, and raw dairy (for some), you can enjoy coconut oil and other saturated fats without worry.
And you’ll be 100 times healthier and happier for it.
That said, every person’s body has its own preferences when it comes to food.
Nutrigenomics testing is incredibly valuable in this regard, as it tells us exactly which foods your body thrives on…and which it doesn’t. Learn more here.
Coconut Oil IS Healthy…It Always Has Been
Provided it is consumed as part of a healthy, traditional diet (like those enjoyed by heart-disease-free indigenous people for millennia), coconut oil’s fast-burning medium-chain fatty acids can benefit your health in numerous ways.
How do you find a quality coconut oil?
Look for products in dark packaging labeled “virgin” and “cold-pressed” (there is no such thing as “extra virgin” coconut oil). Organic is a bonus.
If you don’t like the taste of coconut, you can opt for refined coconut oil as a next-best option (they’ve removed the coconut proteins which takes out the coconut flavor), or stick with the other fats mentioned below (the less processed the better).
Other healthful fats include:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Butter and ghee from pasture-raised cows
- Natural fats from consuming whole seeds and nuts (no seed and nut oils please)
- Naturally fatty fish
- Avocado oil
- Professional-grade omega-3 fatty acid supplements like fish oil and cod liver oil
As always, if you need help getting your nutrition or heart health on-track, we’re here for you. Click here to learn more about our Nutritional and Lifestyle Counseling or Nutritional Testing Services, or call: 512.495.9015 to schedule.