In Defense of Coconut Oil
IN DEFENSE OF COCONUT OIL
How the American Heart Association is Steering Us Wrong
Last June, the American Heart Association issued a Presidential Advisory stating that saturated fats including coconut oil should be avoided and instead replaced with polyunsaturated vegetable oils. This is hardly newsworthy, as this has been their stance for as long as we can remember. However, since the release of this newest advisory, headlines have been popping up right and left bashing coconut oil in particular, the most recent in Cooking Light Magazine: “Coconut Oil Sales Plummet as Everyone Realizes What We’ve Been Saying All Along.” As emails and texts began to once again pour in from concerned clients, family members and friends, we took it upon ourselves to record a podcast episode that would once and for all put this issue to rest. If you’re more of an auditory learner or prefer to get your nutrition news on the go, you can listen to Episode 78 of the Naturally Nourished Podcast here.
The biggest and most pressing concern here is that the issue at hand has been grossly oversimplified and that the advice on what to replace coconut oil with is literally detrimental to our health! It is important to note that this was an “advisory”–not a new study or even new research that is being reported on. The AHA in fact has had the recommendation to reduce dietary saturated fat has been consistent since 1961. It is important to highlight, they aren’t saying consume ZERO saturated fat–they actually recommend 30 grams per day for men and 20 for women, which is equivalent to about 2 Tablespoons coconut oil. And to give them a tiny shred of credit, they did recommend consumption of a Mediterranean style diet with foods rich in healthy fatty acids like wild fish, olives, nuts and seeds.
But, back to coconut oil…It was reported that The American Heart Association advised against the use of coconut oil, yet clearly stated that “clinical trials that compared direct effects on CVD of coconut oil and other dietary oils have not been reported.” In other words, there is NO DATA linking cardiovascular disease with coconut oil!
The Issue of Funding
The most recent report Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory deserves to be looked at under a microscope. This study was funded by Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Glaxo-Smith Kline, AstraZeneca, Amgen and many more are listed as providing research grants for the authors. It just so happens that these companies manufacture cholesterol-lowering medications like statins. And then the Canola Oil Council and California Walnut commission also helped to fund the research!
What’s more, the AHA is hugely influenced by the big-wigs of the food industry and while it is a non-profit, it receives significant funding from food industry leaders. Nestle, Coca-Cola, The Sugar Association, the United Soybean Board, and the US Canola Association also serve on its Industry Nutrition Advisory Panel. Subway, General Mills and Bayer Aspirin are also funders. The AHA also allows companies to purchase a “seal of approval”, known as the Heart Check Program, that can be put on certain food products that meet specific criteria. Some of these products include Honey Nut Cheerios, Orange Juice, and V8 Fusion. Most of the products endorsed are high in refined carbs and sugar. And so, we can see where the interests of the AHA lie and this alone makes us question the validity of ALL claims they make!
Cherry Picking of Research
There have been at least 17 systematic reviews and meta-analyses conducted in recent years that have not found a clear link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease! The AHA themselves note: “In the past few years, meta-analyses of observational studies and randomized clinical trials have come to discordant conclusions about the relationship between dietary saturated fat and risk of CVD”. They then proceed to pick four core studies from these meta-analyses that show some link and use this as the foundation of the recent advisory! The publication dates of these four core studies were 1969, 1970, 1968, and 1979! The authors report that no definitive large-scale clinical trials have been conducted since then–an even bigger public health issue!
This is certainly not the first time that cherry-picking has occurred in the history of saturated fat or nutrition research, thinking back to the the famous “seven countries study” in which Ancel Keys, father of the saturated fat–heart disease hypothesis, picked seven of 22 countries to demonstrate an initial relationship between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. This is truly when the food industry and conventional nutrition advice began to steer us wrong and we are still seeing ramifications of this today as well as a slew of misinformation on the subject!
Nutrition Research Methods Can be Problematic
As we know from our clinical work (and not to call out any of our clients!), people lie about what they eat and/or have trouble recalling even what they had for dinner the night before. Unless literally locked in a room and given a controlled diet, it is impossible to determine exactly what they are eating and in what amounts. Food records, interviews and food frequency questionnaires are what are commonly used in nutrition research, yet they are all inaccurate.
What’s more, most nutrition research is based on epidemiological data that can only show correlations, or connections, and cannot determine causation between two variables. For example, ice cream sales correlate with number of drownings. Is this because ice cream causes you to drown? No, it is because ice cream is sold in the summer, when people are also swimming more and there is more likelihood of drowning!
There is also the issue of the difference between statistical and clinical significance. Statistical significance looks at an observed difference between treatment groups in a study. Clinical significance looks at whether the observed different would make any difference for clinical outcomes. So if LDL goes up by a couple of points, that is statistically significant. But does that make a difference in incidence of heart disease? Probably not, so it would not be clinically significant.
In this case, the authors looked at clinical significance by assessing the number of actual cardiovascular events, but only for a handful of studies. The remainder of their report was built around changes in LDL cholesterol, which is not even a reliable predictor for heart disease. They present several studies that observed changes in cholesterol ranging from 0.6 to 2.1 mg/dL after increasing saturated fat intake. Yes, this is statistically significant, but can that tiny change in cholesterol make a difference in the number of clinical outcomes? The answer is NO! Cholesterol tests literally vary more than that from one day to the next–there is variance in LDL of between 20-40% literally taking the test yesterday versus today!
LDL is NOT the Bad Guy!
The approach that LDL is bad in the first place is myopic and the study fails to consider particle size or inflammation, two much better predictors of cardiovascular risk! The focus of this report was mainly on the effects of fats on LDL cholesterol, sometimes known as “bad” cholesterol. The premise is that LDL cholesterol predicts heart disease, so therefore the higher your LDL the higher your risk for a heart attack. Unfortunately, this is faulty logic. It has repeatedly been shown in clinical studies that 50 percent of patients who have died from a sudden heart attack had normal LDL. On top of that, lowering LDL only reduced the risk of a heart attack by 25 percent, so something is just not adding up!
LDL is by no means “bad,” but can be made bad by the composition of your diet. The key to understanding LDL is to understand the concept of particle sizes. Studies show saturated fat raises LDL (your so-called “bad” cholesterol) but it improves the quality of the LDL and increases its size making it less likely to promote heart disease. It also raises HDL (“good” cholesterol). LDL can be big and fluffy or small and sticky. The big and fluffy LDL is less likely to stick to the walls of blood vessels, and the small and sticky LDL is more likely to cause a buildup of plaque and damage to the vessels. Clinically what we see with our Virtual Ketosis Program clients is that a diet higher in fat and lower in carbs has the BEST impact on their lipid panels especially on that LDL particle size and HDL. So basically the AHA is focused on the wrong target altogether.
Focus on Inflammation, the ROOT Cause of Heart Disease!
We need to switch our focus to lowering inflammation and potential for damage to those vessels in the first place. This includes avoiding processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and industrialized oils in the diet and focusing on anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich foods instead as well as dealing with stress! Our Cardiometabolic Panel looks at markers of inflammation as well as Lipoorotein Particle Size to determine heart health risk instead of a simplistic view that is just once small piece of a much larger puzzle! To get a more comprehensive look at inflammation, we recommend running:
C-Reactive protein: this is a marker of inflammatory status and can indicate cardiovascular risk
Lp(a): this small, dense LDL is involved in thrombosis and “stickiness” of the blood
Homocysteine: High levels of homocysteine may act as an arterial abrasive and physically damage arteries. This arterial trauma affects the endothelial lining of the arteries, which normally responds to enzymatic or hormonal cues to dilate or contract. When the endothelial lining of the blood vessels becomes dysfunctional, vascular health is seriously compromised.
Learn more about the CardioMetabolic Panel to assess Cardiovascular and Diabetes risk!
The AHA recommends we increase consumption of pro-inflammatory oils instead of coconut oil…say what?!
To replace saturated fat, the AHA recommends eating more corn, canola and soy oil. More than 90 percent of these crops are genetically modified. And Norwegian researchers even found U.S. soy contains “extreme” levels of glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup.
Beyond the GMO issue, A 2016 review study published in the British Medical Journal looked at what happens when people take saturated fats out of the diet and replace with vegetable oil. Instead of consuming saturated fats, people were eating more corn oil and margarine rich in polyunsaturated fats. Turns out, replacing saturated fat with corn oil and similar oils actually increased a person’s risk of coronary heart disease and death from all causes.
Proven Benefits of Coconut Oil
We’ve pulled together just a few of the studies that drive home the benefits of coconut oil! Beyond being safe for consumption and safer than highly oxidizable polyunsaturated oils, studies show:
Coconut oil improves blood lipid profile
Coconut oil reduces waist circumference
Coconut oil is anti-inflammatory
Coconut oil is antimicrobial
Coconut oil may promote weight loss
Coconut oil leads to a greater rate of weight loss and fat mass than olive oil
Coconut oil may improve antioxidant status
Coconut oil may protect against Alzheimer’s disease
The Components of Coconut Oil
About 62 percent of the fats in coconut are made up of the MCTs caprylic, lauric and capric acids and 91 percent of the fat in coconut oil is saturated fat.
- Easier to digest
- Not readily stored as fat
- Antimicrobial and antifungal
- Smaller in size, allowing easier cell permeability
- Processed by the liver, which means that they’re more easily converted to energy
Caprylic acid is a type of beneficial saturated fatty acid that has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It is found in foods like coconut and coconut oil, cow’s milk, and human breast milk, it’s been linked to prevention of urinary tract infections, bladder infections, Candida, sexually transmitted diseases, oral infections like gingivitis and many other conditions.
Lauric acid is most well-known for its antimicrobial properties, since it’s the precursor to monolaurin, a more powerful antimicrobial agent that is able to fight viruses and bacterial infections. While lauric acid itself has disease-fighting abilities, monolaurin from lauric acid is capable of inhibiting the growth of pathogens due to having strong antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and can be used for treating viral infections like the flu, common cold and herpes.
Capric acid also has strong antiviral and antimicrobial properties. Capric acid is converted into monocaprin in the body, where it can help combat viruses, bacteria and the common yeast Candida Albicans.
Applications in Cooking
Saturated fats like coconut oil are safer at higher heats due to the nature of their bonds–their bonds are saturated or closed and much more difficult to oxidize than polyunsaturated fats, which have many open bonds and easily oxidize at higher heat! We love coconut oil in keto coffee, for roasting veggies, for baking and in smoothies for starters!
Here are a few of our favorite coconut oil recipes:
20 Uses for Coconut Oil Beyond the Kitchen!
Removes Eye Makeup-easily removes makeup while moisturizing skin around the eyes and preventing wrinkles! Plus it can prevent bacterial eye infections like styes!
Sexual Lubricant– its antimicrobial properties can help prevent UTIs, yeast infections and STDs!
Eczema-soothes cracked and dry skin and prevents infection of open sores.
Sunburn-provides essential moisture to soothe burned skin and prevent peeling. Mix in a few drops lavender and peppermint oil to help soothe and heal burns faster!
Moisturizer-use all over the body after a shower to lock in moisture
Lip Balm-smear on cracked and dry lips for instant relief
Wounds-its antimicrobial properties make it a great salve for minor cuts and scrapes
Cellulite-mix with grapefruit essential oil and rub in a circular motion to increase circulation and reduce the appearance of cellulite
Massage– mix with a few drops lavender oil and use as a massage oil
Insect Repellant– mix with rosemary or tea tree essential oil and dab on as a safe way to repel pesky mosquitos
Cold Sores-dab on cold sores to see faster healing time, its antiviral properties fight the herpes virus
Hair Mask-rub into ends of hair to lock in moisture and leave on overnight
Dandruff Treatment-massage into scalp to help with dandruff and soothe dry scalp
Body Scrub-mix with cane sugar, coffee grounds and vanilla extract to exfoliate dry skin (bonus: you’ll smell like a cookie!)
Diaper Rash– soothes little bottoms without harsh chemicals or preservatives
Oil Pulling-swish a couple teaspoons in the mouth for 15-20 minutes per day to help with oral thrush (candida), freshen breath and clean teeth
Toothpaste-mix with baking soda and peppermint essential oil for a squeaky clean mouth
Deodorant– mix with baking soda and essential oils for a safe odor-destroying deodorant
Furniture Polish-use to give sheen to lackluster wood
Removing Gum-use like goo-gone to remove gum from surfaces (not fabrics–it will stain!)
A Few of Our Favorite Coconut Products
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