Coconut oil has been deemed a superfood over the last couple of years, and many people have started including it as a regular part of their diet. But, is coconut oil healthy? I am going to dive into the truth about coconut oil and help clear some of the recent confusion surrounding this oil.
If you are feeling more confused than ever regarding whether or not coconut oil is healthy since the release of the American Heart Association June report, keep reading.
What is the American Heart Association Saying About Coconut Oil?
As if the topic of saturated fats wasn’t confusing enough, the June American Heart Association report has made things even more confusing. However, the truth is that this is certainly not the first time the American Heart Association has recommended cutting back saturated fat, they have consistently held their stance on saturated fats and have recommended reducing it from the diet. However, I am going to talk about why avoiding coconut oil is not the answer and share a little bit more on this recent report and why there may be some biased views and influences impacting this latest report. First, let’s dive a little deeper into this AHA report.
For years, saturated fats were looked at as damaging and harmful to our cardiovascular health. However, over the years, other reports have shown the benefits of adding coconut oil to your diet which is very high in this particular fat.
The AHA has come out in saying that coconut oil may not be as healthy as what many may believe it to be. One of the biggest issues they have with coconut oil has to do with cholesterol. The American Heart Association is recommending that people stay away from this oil because they believe it to raise LDL cholesterol (the bad type of cholesterol.) However, they do not speak about the potential benefits of coconut’s ability to help raise the healthy type of cholesterol (HDL). It’s also been found that adding some coconut oil to your diet can help decrease waist circumference. (1)
The Industries Influence
What do I mean when I talk about industry influence? I am talking about the influence industries have on nutritional science. Now, you may be thinking that the American Heart Association wouldn’t be impacted by industry influence as it’s a non-profit organization but the truth is that non-profits can be influenced as well. As it turns out, the AHA receives funds from some large companies you would never think the AHA would be involved with.
Large companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, and The Sugar Association to name a few have representatives that serve on the American Heart Associations Industry Nutrition Advisory Panel, INAP. It’s very possible that some of the representatives would have some influence over what the AHA recommends.
The American Heart Association’s Issue with Cholesterol
So, why is the American Heart Association so concerned with cholesterol levels? Their primary issue with coconut oil has to do with cholesterol since the AHA believes that LDL cholesterol has the ability to put you at a higher risk of developing heart disease.
While of course managing your cholesterol levels is important (keep in mind that both high and low cholesterol can pose an issue to health) it’s important to also take other areas of your health into account when looking at risk factors for heart disease. There are many different areas we need to look at when it comes to protecting our heart such as other dietary and lifestyle factors to help reduce the total inflammatory load on the body. Instead of solely focusing on cholesterol as the issue it’s important for us to look at the root cause of nearly all disease which happens to be inflammation.
One More Thing on Cholesterol
Another important point I want to make about cholesterol is the fact that it’s important to look at more than just your total cholesterol. You need to look at your actual cholesterol ratios. You will want to look at both your HDL and LDL cholesterol numbers. Unfortunately, it’s more common for medical organizations or even modern day physicians to put a large emphasis on your total cholesterol as opposed to the ratios. For this reason, whenever working with a doctor always ask about your cholesterol ratios so that you know where your levels stand.
I have also written an entire blog post on cholesterol so if you are interested in learning more about why cholesterol is an important part of our diet you can read more about that here.
Another Big Issue with the AHA Report
Another big issue I have with the report that came out about coconut oil is what is being recommended as a replacement for certain saturated fats. The report talks about the comparison between saturated fats such as those found in coconut oil and dairy products and polyunsaturated vegetable oils. The AHA report is in favor of the use of vegetable oils. (2)
So, what’s the big issue with this? Unfortunately, many of the vegetable oils seen today are genetically modified such as corn as well as soy oil. (3) These vegetable oils are also very high in omega-6 fatty acids. When we get more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids, we run the risk of increasing inflammation in the body. Too much omega-6 fatty acid is associated with an increased risk of nearly all inflammatory disease. (4) This is a major issue because we know that inflammation can cause heart disease so therefore increasing your vegetable oil intake may actually put you at a greater risk of developing heart disease.
Debunking the Myth About Saturated Fats
When asked the question is coconut oil healthy, the topic of saturated fat is always going to come up. This is especially true now that this new report has come out. I want to talk specifically about saturated fats to give you a little bit of a better understanding surrounding them and how they are used in the body.
The bottom line about saturated fats is that we need them. Did you know that about 50% of cell membranes are composed of saturated fats? Imagine what would happen if we didn’t get any in our diet.
Our bones also rely on saturated fats in order to effectively incorporate our calcium intake into our bones. (5) Saturated fats are also protective in the sense that they can help protect the liver and they are also important for brain health. When we completely remove or significantly restrict our saturated fat intake, we rob the brain of what it needs to function properly.
Our nerves also need a certain amount of saturated fat for proper nerve signaling. This is especially true for saturated fats found in things like coconut oil as well as butter. These fats help with nerve signaling that influences essential body functions such as metabolism.
If you also think back to the hunter and gatherer days where a Paleolithic diet was consumed, they were not at risk for cardiovascular disease like we are today. What’s important about that is that their diets contained large amounts of fats and saturated fats at that. High-fat diets today such as the ketogenic diet have shown favorable odds for affecting the markers for cardiovascular disease according to a study done by The Journal of Nutrition.
While there are many mixed messages about consuming fat and it’s impact on our health, the studies are there that show that keeping fat in the diet can ultimately be beneficial especially when you consume the right types of fat, and yes this includes coconut oil!
Saturated Fat & The Immune System
One last thing I want to talk about when it comes to saturated fat intake is the role it plays in our immune system. One of the greatest benefits of adding coconut oil to your diet is its ability to help boost the immune system. The lauric acid found in the coconut oil is responsible for this benefit. When we don’t get enough saturated fats into our diet, it can be difficult for our white blood cells to keep up with any foreign invaders that may come into our blood. This can put us at risk for bacteria, and viruses to invade and make us sick.
The truth is that our bodies need a certain amount of saturated fat in our diet. Of course, it’s important to focus on where you are getting your saturated fats from. For example, you don’t want to consume processed meats or damaged oils. Things like coconut oil, grass-fed and organic beef, and organic raw dairy products are all excellent sources. Despite what this current report states about coconut oil, the proof is there that a certain amount of saturated fat from healthy sources is necessary for overall health. Therefore, don’t be afraid to keep coconut oil in your diet. I even recommend swapping out other unhealthy oils such as vegetable oils in your diet for coconut oil.
So, is Coconut Oil Healthy?
So, now that you know a little bit more about what the AHA report is about as well as a little bit more about saturated fats and cholesterol you may be wondering is coconut oil healthy?
The bottom line is that coconut oil still contains properties that can benefit your health. This oil contains so many powerful properties that completely removing it from your diet may do more harm than good.
Here are just a handful of health promoting properties coconut oil holds:
Immune Health: As we have previously talked about, coconut oil is great for the immune system. Coconut oil acts as a natural antibacterial and antiviral. The lauric acid in coconut oil is also great for fighting off candida.
Brain Health: There have been numerous studies that have shown that coconut oil may be able to assist those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and even seizure disorders. Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids which work a little bit differently than other fats in the body. These fats are very easily absorbed and then converted into ketones. These ketone bodies serve as energy sources for the brain and may be very beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s disease. (6)
Energy Support: You may notice that many athletes make coconut oil a regular part of their diet and this again has to do with the medium chain fatty acids present in this oil. These fats are metabolized by the liver and can be used for energy which is why coconut oil is such a great energy supporting food.
Choosing the Right Kind of Coconut Oil
If you do decide to keep coconut oil in your diet, not all coconut oil is created equal. Here are some of the things you will want to watch out for when choosing which brand is going to be best for you.
- Choose Unrefined Coconut Oil: You may notice that some brands of coconut oil are labeled as “refined” when shopping at the grocery store. You want to stay away from this. Why? Because refined coconut oil has been bleached as well as deodorized. The unrefined version does not use any chemicals to treat the oil and therefore keeps more of the natural compounds present in the oil.
- Choose Virgin Coconut Oil: Virgin coconut oil is derived from the meat of mature coconuts, and it’s full of healthy fats and free from any chemicals that you may find in refined versions. Virgin coconut oil does have a very distinct coconut taste, so you will likely notice the flavor of the oil when used in cooking. With that being said, I do recommend the use of virgin coconut oil if you are choosing to keep coconut oil in your diet.
Other Ways to Slash Your Heart Disease Risk
I am by no means saying that we shouldn’t be worried about our risk for cardiovascular disease because this is something we all need to pay attention to. However, I want to share some additional ways that you can help reduce your risk that doesn’t involve swapping out coconut oil for more damaging oils.
By taking a deeper look at your diet and lifestyle and making changes you could do your body a whole ton of good.
Here are some other ways that you can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Cut processed foods out of your diet. Foods made with damaged fats such as trans fats, and hydrogenated fats put you at an increased risk of developing heart disease.
- Eliminate as much refined sugar from your diet as you can.
- Eliminate gluten and cut back on grains.
- Eliminate processed meats from your diet.
- Enjoy more omega-3 fatty acids: Things like wild-caught fish, mackerel, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts are excellent sources.
- Enjoy more dark leafy green vegetables.
- Add fresh herbs and spices to your diet.
- Follow an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of vegetables, berries, and omega-3 rich foods.
- Stay active by getting some form of exercise into your daily routine.
- Reduce stress to help reduce the inflammatory load on your body.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Maintain healthy blood pressure readings.
If you are suffering from weight gain, fatigue, hair loss and more, click here to schedule a phone call with me, so I can find out where you’ve been, where you want to get to, and how I can help you get there.
I know exactly where you are because I’ve been there myself…I remember being so tired that I could barely function. I gained 30 pounds out of nowhere and had a severe case of brain fog. I also started to get severe anxiety and panic attacks. I was driven and motivated…until I wasn’t. I didn’t know what was happening to me. All I wanted was to get my life back…
Finally, I learned about functional medicine and found a practitioner that I hoped could help me. They ran specialized tests that were far different than I had ever had before. When I got the results back, it turned out I had candida, parasites, high cortisol, the Epstein Bar Virus and many food intolerances. I also had an issue with my thyroid that no one found before because they were using the conventional medicine lab ranges which are way too broad….which I now know is one of the leading causes of hypothyroid misdiagnosis.
I went through treatment of all of these things and it completely changed my life. I immediately lost the 30 pounds I had gained plus more, I had a lot more energy, and my brain fog was gone. I felt amazing and knew that I wanted to help people find the underlying causes of their symptoms and disease.
(1) A Coconut Extra Virgin Oil-Rich Diet Increases HDL Cholesterol and Decreases Waist Circumference And Body Mass in Coronary Artery Disease Patients. (2015) Pub Med
(2) Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. (2017) American Heart Association.
(3) Is Coconut Oil Healthy? The American Heart Association Doesn’t Think So. (2017) Dr. Axe.
(4) How too much Omega-6 and Not Enough Omega-3 is Making Us Sick. (2010) Chris Kresser.
(5) 7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat. (2009) Dr. Mercola.
(6) The Role of Dietary Coconut for the Prevention and Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease: Potential Mechanism of Action. (2015) Pub Med.
(7) A Ketogenic Diet Favorably Affects Serum Biomarkers for Cardiovascular Disease in Normal-Weight Men. (2002) The Journal of Nutrition
(8) Coconut Oil is Still Healthy, Despite AHA Claims. (2017) Chris Kresser