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Coconut Oil: The Good, The Bad and The Bottom Line

There has been quite the brouhaha in the media about a new report from the American Heart Association (AHA).  In a recently released report, the AHA advised against the use of coconut oil.  Claiming that coconut oil contains saturated fat and will increase LDLs (bad) cholesterol and cause heart disease.  A quick review of some of the studies they used for this new report included 4 trials from 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1979.

In recent years there have been a number of studies, reviews and clinical trials that have concluded there is not a clear link between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, or diabetes.

Let’s take a closer look at coconut oil which is made by pressing the fat from the white “meat” inside the large nut.  About 84% of it’s calories do come from saturated fat (no cholesterol), however, and this is important, most of this saturated fat is made up of medium-chain triglycerides (fatty acids) or MCTs.

MCTs are easily absorbed and metabolized by the liver, where they are directly turned into energy rather than being stored as fat.  Some studies have also shown that MCTs may increases your HDL (good) cholesterol which is associated with a reduced risk for heart disease.  However, there is a component in coconut oil that also raises your LDL. Both of these factors result in a neutral impact on your heart, but not necessarily considered “heart healthy”.

FYI cholesterol at a glance:
- LDL:  helps form plaque that blocks your arteries
- HDL:  helps remove LDL

Often these studies, reviews and reports fail to explain that consuming saturated fat and cholesterol are really necessary and important for good health.

Our brain is composed mostly of water, then primarily cholesterol and saturated fat.  Cholesterol promotes the growth of new brain cells, helps with communication between neurons and is a vital component of the myelin sheath, that protective covering that surrounds our nerves.  A recent study from the Mayo Clinic found that elderly subjects (ages 70-89) who consumed a diet higher in fat were 42% less likely to have cognitive impairment which may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Bottom Line:

My father always said “Nothing in excess, everything in moderation.”  I think those are still great words to live by.  Coconut oil should not be off-limits, but should be used in moderation.  A tablespoon per day at the most.  A healthy diet is a “balancing act” and very individual. 

Healthy fats which include omega-3 fats are a good diet option. 
Best in show are the polyunsaturated vegetable oils like:  grapeseed and sesame; then monosaturated vegetable oils like: olive oils, safflower oils, and sunflower oils.  Coconut oil in moderation, but definitely not off-limits.  Also, healthy fats like: nuts, avocados, salmon, tuna, walnuts and flax seeds, should be a part of your diet. 

Last word, stop stressing over your diet.  Stress raises your levels of a hormone called “cortisol”.  Over time cortisol can do more harm to your health by raising your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cognitive decline. 

Moderation, variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, healthy whole gf grains and eating whole unprocessed foods!  Now, that's a wrap!