Coconut oil is great for you and everyone should be eating it by the spoonful with their coffee. No wait, the American Heart Association says that we need to avoid coconut oil and all other forms of saturated fats. So what’s really going on? Is coconut oil evil? Let’s dive in.
Today we are going to be discussing something that has been at the “heart” of nutrition debates for decades. Pun intended.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, and as such efforts to decrease the rates of heart disease have been at the forefront of medical research. It is well established that diet and lifestyle have a tremendous impact on both the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
Now, the intake of saturated fat like that found in coconut oil as well as fatty meats, and dairy products has been made out to be a major risk factor to the development of heart disease. But more recently these findings have come into question.
In 2014, a massive meta-analysis posted in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at more than 600 thousand people through various different studies. They stated that “Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”
Harvard Medical School summarized these more recent studies about saturated fat and heart disease as follows;
“A handful of recent reports have muddied the link between saturated fat and heart disease. One meta-analysis of 21 studies said that there was not enough evidence to conclude that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, but that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may indeed reduce risk of heart disease.
Two other major studies narrowed the prescription slightly, concluding that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils or high-fiber carbohydrates is the best bet for reducing the risk of heart disease, but replacing saturated fat with highly processed carbohydrates could do the opposite.”
Now with this recent conflicting research out there the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2017 came out with a presidential advisory stating that “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD, …, we advise against the use of coconut oil.”
The AHA goes on to say that, “This recommended shift from saturated to unsaturated fats should occur simultaneously in an overall healthful dietary pattern such as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or the Mediterranean diet”
They specifically note these recent conflicting studies saying that “meta-analyses that specifically evaluated the effect of replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat found significant benefit, whereas replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, yielded no significant benefit to CVD risk.” Just like what was reported by Harvard Medical School.
So where does this leave us? Should we avoid coconut oil like the plague?
The answer is it depends.
Some people do well when switching to a higher fat diet. There are a number of studies showing the beneficial effects of going on a lower carb and thereby a higher fat and specifically saturated fat diet on cardiovascular disease markers and insulin resistance. But put other people on that exact same diet and their Cholesterol levels will go through the roof which is definitely going to put them at higher risk of heart disease.
I myself seem to do well eating a higher amount of saturated fat. In fact, when I was in PA school I was regularly putting coconut oil and butter in my coffee in the mornings to increase my energy levels and save time from making breakfast. I got my blood lipids checked and they were as follows.
So eating higher amounts of fat worked for me, BUT I was also eating a ton of vegetables, sleeping 8-9 hours each night, walking every day, weightlifting 2-4 times each week, eating no processed garbage to speak of, not drinking alcohol, not smoking, etc.
So this brings me to my final 2 recommendations.
The first is to get your blood lipids checked. I recommend going farther than a regular lipid panel and actually looking at specific particle sizes to determine exactly how you are doing with regards to your Cardiometabolic health. Don’t assume that just because a diet worked for someone you know whether that be keto, vegan, paleo, etc that it will work for you. Some people have familial hypercholesterolemia which means that you probably need statin medications regardless of your diet. Other people will have a great lipid profile regardless of what they eat.
Second, even though specific dietary guidelines on saturated fat are coming into question there are a few recommendations that will almost definitely help you Live Better Live Longer and Do More:
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t drink more than 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men
- Sleep 7-9 hours each night
- Exercise regularly, and if you are able, exercise at a high intensity at least once a week
- Maintain a healthy weight throughout the entirety of your life regardless of your specific macronutrient intake
Try to focus less on a very specific nutrient or a specific food like coconut oil being the end all be all when it comes to feeling better and living longer and focus more on those 5 main things.
I hope that this has been helpful. If you have questions please leave them in the comments below. Make sure that you are following and subscribing for more great content.
Again this is Floyd Meyer reminding you to Live Better so you can Do More
Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good.
LEREN, P. (1970). The Oslo Diet-Heart Study: Eleven-Year Report. Circulation, 42(5), 935–942. doi:10.1161/01.cir.42.5.935
Matt, & Alexa, S. (2017, June 27). Coconut Oil Is Still Healthy, Despite AHA Claims. Retrieved from https://chriskresser.com/coconut-oil-is-still-healthy-despite-aha-claims/.
Mccaulley, M. (2014). Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk. Annals of Internal Medicine, 161(6), 456. doi: 10.7326/l14-5018-7
Sacks, F. M., Lichtenstein, A. H., Wu, J. H. Y., Appel, L. J., Creager, M. A., Kris-Etherton, P. M., … Van Horn, L. V. (2017). Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 136(3), e1–e23. doi:10.1161/cir.0000000000000510
Santos, F. L., Esteves, S. S., da Costa Pereira, A., Yancy Jr, W. S., & Nunes, J. P. L. (2012). Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors. Obesity Reviews, 13(11), 1048–1066. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789x.2012.01021.x