The American Heart Association is at it again – giving coconut oil and saturated fat a bad name! Truth be told, the AHA is unreliable! They’ve become a lobbying group for the companies that make statin drugs and the companies that manufacture GMO foods. They don’t want people replacing corn and soy with coconut oil.
Many studies support the use of saturated fats and fats in general, and they can even be beneficial for heart disease and cholesterol levels when paired with a healthy diet. Here’s where the AHA is incorrect in reporting: Lowering cholesterol and lowering LDL by eliminating saturated fats (aka: coconut) does not change heart disease risk.
It’s so frustrating that heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States, but information is still extremely confusing for people, especially when it comes to preventing and treating it.
Here's the deal: The #1 way a person’s body gets into trouble is inflammation, which is typically generated by a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates. Not Saturated Fat!
Key Points Supporting Coconut
#1: Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Lowering a person’s LDL or Total Cholesterol does not affect heart disease risk. You might be able to manipulate a lab value (mainstream medicine has moved toward treating a number rather than the patient), but if Total Cholesterol drops from 250 (high cholesterol level) to 140 (normal cholesterol level), your risk of heart disease doesn’t change a bit. Whether or not the saturated fat in coconut raises LDL cholesterol, the point is, elevated LDL does NOT cause heart disease.
In all actuality, the brain is 30% cholesterol – it needs cholesterol to function. Lowering cholesterol levels via diet manipulation or statin drugs can potentially damage the brain. The brain can’t function without cholesterol. Statin drugs can negatively influence memory because of their cholesterol-lowering effects.
#2: Triglycerides and Inflammation
Triglyceride levels are one of the most important markers indicating inflammation (the damaging kind). High triglyceride levels = excess inflammation.
The #1 way a person’s body becomes inflamed is when it releases too much insulin, which is pro-inflammatory. Insulin is released when these foods are eaten: sugar, refined flour, baked & processed foods, and grains. The fat in coconut digests so slowly it does not raise blood sugar levels and therefore does not cause an insulin release. Basically, it’s the other crap in food, not the saturated fat, that causes heart disease.
How Does Insulin Convert Sugar Into Triglycerides?
This process is part of what insulin does. It’s a storage hormone. If you can’t immediately use the sugar, insulin stores it for future energy by converting it to triglycerides (a form of fat circulating in the blood).
#3: Inflammation and Heart Disease
You can have a lot of cholesterol circulating in your blood, but cholesterol can’t deposit in a blood vessel unless you have enough inflammation in that blood vessel to warrant it. Once again, the amount of circulating cholesterol in your blood (by itself) has nothing to do with heart disease.
Rather, the inflammation on the interior lining of the blood vessel is an injury, and once the vessel is injured due to inflammation, LDL cholesterol will go to the site of that injury to try and heal it. The LDL becomes like cement and begins accumulating in an unhealthy way. This is unhealthy for the heart, but as you can see, it’s inflammation that triggers this cascade of events (not cholesterol).
To put it simply:
High cholesterol + high trigs (aka: high inflammation) = a health problem
High cholesterol + normal trigs (aka: low inflammation) = normal and OK
#4: Saturated Fat in Coconut
Coconut does not go bad under normal conditions. It’s 100% saturated fat and stays solid at room temp. It’s very stable. Cooking with coconut oil is a great thing because it’s very heat stable.
On the contrary, oils high in omega-6 fats are unstable and go rancid, which raises inflammation and increases heart disease risk. Those omega-6 fats include soybean oil (surprise, surprise), corn oil, grapeseed oil, walnut oil, sunflower oil & safflower oil. Switching from lard to vegetable fats actually increases heart disease rates.
#5: Fight Inflammation with Coconut
Lauric Acid, one type of fat in coconut, is good for the gut and is anti-inflammatory. A diet high in foods that fight inflammation is great for heart health! Here's how to choose the best kind of coconut oil.
This likely is not the end of the coconut/heart disease debate. Unfortunately, as long as the AHA is being paid by pharmaceutical and big ag companies, coconut oil will probably always be deemed the enemy. In the end, you decide the diet that’s right for you, but I certainly won’t be eliminating coconut oil in order to eat a diet full of soy, corn and canola. Thanks anyway, AHA!
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods