Coconut oil has received some bad publicity over the past year. After the American Heart Association(AHA) released a report in 2017 on dietary fat and cardiovascular disease, advising against the use of coconut oil, people start questioning whether they should include it in their diet or not. So what do we make of this information, and is coconut oil really as unhealthy as some make it out to be?
Why has coconut oil been demonised? Coconut oil contains high levels of saturated fat, the ‘feared fat’, almost 90% saturated fat. And according to the AHA’s Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory, saturated fat increases LDL(bad) cholesterol. This then led to the AHA to make the following statement: “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD(cardiovascular disease), and has no known offsetting favourable effects, we advise against its use.” What the report fails to mention is that coconut oil also raises HDL(good) cholesterol. Furthermore, studies have shown that it is low cholesterol, not high cholesterol, that increases your risk of heart disease. And that cholesterol is merely a sign of inflammation in the body, inflammation being the root cause of many diseases, including heart disease. The AHA then recommends replacing these saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. And while that would have been a good recommendation if people started eating more oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil, people started consuming processed vegetable oils and margarine, high in Omega-6’s but low in Omega-3’s. So what happened? A 2016 review study published in the British Medical Journal looked at what happens when people take saturated fats out of their diet and replace it with processed vegetable oils such as canola, corn and soybean oil. What did they find? Replacing healthy saturated fat with processed vegetable oils increases your risk of heart disease.
Even if coconut oil really is full of saturated fats, are all saturated fats bad? Let us take a closer look at saturated fats. Saturated fats include coconut oil, palm oil and animal fats. We need to understand the type of saturated fat in coconut oil to understand what makes it a healthy, superior oil to include in your daily diet. The saturated fat in coconut oil consists of mainly Medium Chain Triglycerides(MCTs), most of which is Lauric Acid. This is unlike the Long Chain Fatty Acids(LCFAs) in vegetable or seed oils. This MCT is broken down in the body differently, are easily digested, can be utilized effectively by your body, immediately converted into energy and not stored as fat, possibly helping to promote weight loss and boosts HDL cholesterol. Also, when it comes to high heat cooking, coconut oil is your best choice due to its molecular structure, making it quite heat resistant and preventing oxidation.
Some other proven health benefits of coconut oil:
• It is a healthy and safe oil to use in cooking and baking.
• It is easier to digest because of their molecular structure(MCTs).
• It is not readily stored as fat.
• It is antimicrobial and antifungal.
• It reduces inflammation and Arthritis.
• It boosts your immune system.
• It improves brain health.
• It improves energy and endurance because it provides you with immediate, longer, sustained energy.
• It improves skin issues such as dry skin, burns, Eczema, dandruff, Dermatitis and Psoriasis.
• It prevents gum disease and tooth decay.
• It may be beneficial for weight loss.
• It provides hair care benefits.
• It may help with balancing your hormones.
• And much, much more….
As we have seen, in general, the recommendations from the AHA’s report is oversimplified and short sighted. It is important to remember that we are all different and we have different needs. Some of us will do well by following the AHA’s recommendations and replace the saturated fats with healthy fats from oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. But the truth is that most of us replace the saturated fats with processed vegetable oils. So is coconut oil healthy then? The truth is that saturated fat, including coconut oil and animal fat from grass-fed sources, is necessary for optimal health and are not the ones to blame when it comes to heart disease. It is in fact sugar, trans fats, refined grains and processed and refined foods that are the real villains. So yes, for optimal health, include moderate amounts of cold pressed, extra virgin coconut oil in your diet and lifestyle to enjoy the many health benefits it has to offer. Since we are all different, finding a balance and really listening to your body, is key.