Now coconut oil is bad for you again? Not so fast… Here’s what you should know about this unique oil and the controversy surrounding it…
Coconut oil has always been a somewhat controversial food. Some claim it has almost miraculous health properties, while others say it should be avoided due to its saturated fat content. As usual, the real truth lies somewhere in the middle!
A report from the American Heart Association last year threw coconut oil into the spotlight again, stating that “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of cardiovascular disease, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.”
However, there are several fallacies in this statement, and while coconut oil may not be the “miracle cure” that some natural health enthusiasts have claimed, it may, in fact, have a number of helpful health benefits.
Many doctors and nutrition experts have accused this report of greatly oversimplifying the potential risks, while proposing the consumption of unhealthy alternatives such as soybean oil, corn oil, and canola oil.
According to this article from Rodale’s Organic Life, here are a few things you should know about coconut oil before you throw the baby out with the bathwater:
Even if coconut oil boosts cholesterol, it won’t (necessarily) harm your heart
The AHA based their recommendation to avoid coconut oil largely on the fact that its high saturated fat content can increase levels of LDL cholesterol, commonly referred to as the “bad” cholesterol that ups your risk of heart disease. Of course, it’s more complicated than that.
In a rebuttal to the AHA’s report, Diana Rodgers, RD, registered dietitian, organic farmer, and author of the blog Sustainable Dish, explains that the total number of LDL particles is far less important than the shape and size of the LDL particles: “an increase in saturated fat intake does raise LDL, but only the large, fluffy [LDL particles], not the harmful dense LDL [particles]” that promote inflammation. She goes on to say that saturated fat from sources like butter and coconut oil also increase HDL cholesterol, which is protective to our hearts and reduces risk of heart disease.
Rodgers also points out that “there have been 17 meta-analyses and systematic reviews conducted that have not found a clear link between saturated fat intake and heart disease.” The AHA’s analysis, on the other hand, used four studies—some from the 60s that have long since been disproved—to draw their conclusions.
Looking at overall diet is more important than a single food
In an interview with Mind Body Green, functional medicine doctor Rachel Berzin, MD, explains that the healthiness or unhealthiness of coconut oil largely depends on what else you’re eating:
“High saturated-fat consumption in a diet that is otherwise void of adequate fiber and leafy greens, and too high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, increases small, dense LDL cholesterol. High fat consumption from monounsaturated fats (olive oil) and even saturated fat (organic coconut oil) in a diet mainly free from sugar and flours, and high in vegetables and fiber can actually improve cholesterol composition.”
Meaning, if you add coconut oil to an already crappy diet, yes, you can be doing some serious harm to your health. But if you occasionally incorporate it into a diet loaded with things like fruits, veggies, nuts, and high quality plant and animal proteins, you can probably relax.
Coconut oil does have some perks
These health benefits were not mentioned in the AHA’s paper. Coconut oil has been shown in some studies to promote a reduction in abdominal obesity, and research also links medium chain triglycerides—present in coconut oil—to weight loss. One study even found that coconut oil promoted healthy overall cholesterol levels, reducing total cholesterol and LDL, and raising HDL…
Read more about good and bad fats here and here.