OH boy! Here comes the controversy. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently announced coconut oil is bad for you. Well maybe not so much controversy.
Keep in mind that this is a statement that has come from the same advisory organization that endorses breakfast cereals loaded with sugars and artificial additives. So take what they say with a grain of salt, or maybe a grain of sugar would be better.
It’s important to look at this coconut oil advisory in context: Saturated fats have been proven repeatedly not to be bad for your health or raise the risk of heart disease when you eat a diet that is low in sugar and carbohydrates and high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as from cold water fish and raw nuts).
The real culprit withhwart disease is not just how much fat, cholesterol or whatever lipids we are talking about, but more so how much inflammation do you have in combination with those lipid levels.
Sugars and carbs biggest heart disease culprits
In fact, studies also show it is sugars and excess carbohydrates that inflame the arteries, leading to arterial plaques, trigger production of the “bad” types of cholesterol, and promote obesity.
Likewise, polyunsaturated fats, which the AHA recommends in place of coconut oil and other saturated fats, are high in omega 6. Although we need a healthy ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, the average American eats far too much omega 6 already, thus promoting chronic disease.
Seems like they are trying to create more new patients, or maybe not. I didn’t say it, it wasn’t me!
Inflammation, not cholesterol, is a culprit
Excess omega 6, which is ample in polyunsaturated vegetable oils, is linked with chronic inflammatory disorders, such as fatty liver, arthritis, and irritable bowel disorder. Chronic systemic inflammation has also been found to increase the risk of heart disease.
Meanwhile, cholesterol has been found not to be a factor in heart disease risk. What matters are levels of inflammation (as measured by CRP or homocysteine on a blood test) and levels of the “bad,” or dense, LDL from eating too many sugars.
Here is a great analogy that I often use in my practice to convey how fats and inflammation work in the body. Lets say you have a piece of metal sitting outside and the metal gets exposed to air and water, which causes the metal to rust. This is what is called oxidation.
Now lets take that and apply it to the body. If we think of the fats in our body as the little pieces of metal and think of inflammation as the air and water. The inflammation will cause the fats to oxidize (or rust) and cause heart disease like plaques, atherosclerosis, strokes, etc.
Big difference between saturated and trans fats
Although it’s not clear which saturated fats were investigated in the study criticizing coconut oil, the majority of studies linking saturated fats to heart disease include hydrogenated, or trans, fats. Trans fats are inflammatory, artery-clogging, brain damaging fats that should be avoided at all costs. It is incorrect to group them with natural saturated fats.
Let me be a little more clear. This is not a green light, alls clear, full speed ahead to eat as much coconut oil as you want. In fact coconut oil can be really bad for your heart health. BUT! This usually happens when you start consuming large amounts of coconut oil combined with a diet and lifestyle that continues to be inflammatory.
Remember, inflammation is the big bad wolf in this story!
Health benefits of coconut oil
In a nutshell, if you manage your blood sugar levels with moderate to low consumption of complex carbohydrates, you avoid sugars and processed carbohydrates, you eat plenty of omega 3 fats, and your diet includes 7 to 10 servings a day of vegetables and low-glycemic fruit, chances are you can safely enjoy liberal amounts of coconut oil, and probably even should.
In fact, coconut oil has been shown to have healthy heart benefits even. The heart prefers the fatty acids found in coconut oil as a source of fuel.
Coconut oil is also known to:
- Increase metabolism
- Curb appetite
- Fuel the brain
- Lower triglycerides
- Fight bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections
The AHA diet raises risk of heart disease
Unfortunately, the AHA promotes pro-inflammatory foods that are high in sugars, processed carbs, and omega 6 oils — the very foods most associated with chronic diseases. Keep in mind that some of the recommendations made by the American Heart Association may have some sort of financial incentives.
To their credit, however, they also promote 7 to 10 servings of produce a day and ample omega 3 fatty acids, both of which are excellent anti-inflammatory approaches that support heart health. Seems to me they are kind of trying to have their cake and eat it too.
If you follow the AHA advice to replace calories from healthy natural fats with AHA-approved foods high in industrialized oils and processed carbohydrates, you may find both your blood test results and symptoms worsen.
Don’t do it. If you think you need some help with your health give my office a call. I even do online consultations.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be Healthy, Be happy.