Recent headlines have made the news cycle stating that coconut oil isn’t healthy, and never has been healthy. You most likely heard this story, and perhaps you scratched your head a little and feel more confused than ever. I wanted to weigh-in and give my take.
This story was a reaction to an American Heart Association statement alerting Americans to the “dangers of saturated fat”, while stating that we should replace the calories we obtain from saturated fat with poly-unsaturated fats that predominately come from vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. This is interesting, because these oils in excess have been shown to increase inflammation, and inflammation is a primary factor that contributes to heart disease.
What the American Heart Association doesn’t mention is the strong evidence in favor of saturated fats that resulted from a study conducted over 40 years ago called the Minnesota Coronary Experiment. In this experiment, over 9,000 institutionalized mental patients switched the majority of saturated fats in their diet, with polyunsaturated fat in the form of corn oil. In a recent reanalysis in the data of this experiment, these patients had a 22% higher risk of death from heart disease for every 30mg/dL drop in their serum cholesterol. To put it simply, when these patients took out the saturated fat from their diet and replaced it with polyunsaturated fat in the form of corn oil, like the American Heart Association suggests, their cholesterol went down, but their health outcomes worsened. Or even more simply, you eat corn oil, you die, you eat saturated fat, you live. A side note, the results of this study were left unpublished, likely because the researchers didn’t like the outcome. But they have recently undergone scientific review where these results were revealed.
This isn’t the only study to show that saturated fats are not bad. A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal in 2015 found no association between saturated fat intake and risk for cardiovascular disease, or something called all-cause-mortality, which is basically death by any cause.
Okay, let’s look beyond saturated fat at some other properties that coconut oil has that have been shown to be beneficial. Coconut oil has a high percentage of medium chain triglycerides, or MCT’s, which are a special kind of fat that goes directly to the liver to be burnt as fuel, and does not go into storage. MCT’s have been shown to be beneficial for energy production. As well, one of those MCT’s found in coconut oil is called lauric acid, and it has been shown to have some anti-microbial benefits and may be useful in supporting the immune system.
I should not leave this discussion without mentioning bio-individuality when it comes to diet. Often our genes can provide insight into what works best for us dietarily. There is a gene called the ApoE4 Allele which imposes increased risk for cardiovascular disease as well as Alzheimer’s. About one in four people carry this gene. Now, just because one has a gene, does not mean that they will develop a disease, it just means that they are more at risk for developing it. It is thought that in this population, eating a diet lower in saturated fat may be of benefit to lowering cardiovascular risk. This just goes to show that at the end of the day there is no such thing as a “one-diet-fits-all”.
Now, I have never been one to suggest to my clients that they use coconut oil as their primary cooking oil. The oil that has the most scientific evidence to show positive effects on our cardiovascular system is olive oil, plain and simple. I suggest olive oil for low to medium temperature cooking, and avocado oil for higher heat cooking. Olive oil is full of heart healthy monounsaturated fats, but it does burn at a higher temperature. Burning oil produces oxidative by-products that are not good for your health. For this reason, I suggest avocado oil which can take the heat. Avocado oil has a higher burning point than olive oil, 500F, and is still full of the healthy monounsaturated fats.
So what is my bottom line? Continue to cook with coconut oil if you already do. I use it when I cook stir-fries or Asian types of dishes. I also use coconut milk in my smoothies, although I alternate it with other types of nut milk. And something I like even better that coconut oil is coconut butter which is basically ground coconut (like peanut butter, but made of coconut, so it is coconut butter). It contains 5 grams of fiber per 2 Tablespoons; something you won’t find in straight coconut oil and the flavor is amazing! Artisana Organics is my favorite coconut butter. But, you can also make your own coconut butter, and it is pretty simple. And of course, my favorite bar in my on-line store is the Cocommune Bar, which is full of coconut and boosts 11grams of fiber per bar, but at only 140 calories. It is the most popular bar out of all the Designs for Health bars, and for good reason — it tastes so yummy.
I hope you found this information helpful. Please share your thoughts on this subject in the comments below. And as always, if you enjoyed this blog post, please share with family or friends.