This question often comes up, “Is coconut oil unhealthy because of the high amount of saturated fat it contains?”. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently issued a report advising against the use of coconut oil. “Coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of Cardiovascular disease (CVD), and has no known offsetting favorable effects.”, claimed the authors. I disagree and present some of the research evidence to bust this myth.
While it is a fact that coconut oil contains a higher amount of saturated fat and it does raise cholesterol levels, the linkage between high cholesterol and CVD has been questioned. Dr. Aseem Malhotra, an NHS cardiologist, claims in his article, “Saturated fat is not the major issue.”, in the British Medical Journal. He distinguishes between large, buoyant (type A) LDL particles vs. the small dense (type B) particles that are associated with CVD. The reduction in LDL from reducing saturated fat intake appears to be specific to large buoyant (Type A) particles, which are not implicated with CVD.
So the AHA believes coconut oil is unhealthy due to a misguided thesis: Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol causes heart disease, therefore, anything that raises LDL cholesterol is bad. The only problem is that the data and research do not support this hypothesis. In recent years, there have been a total of at least 17 meta-analyses and systematic reviews, plus 5 non-systematic reviews that have failed to find a clear link between saturated fats and heart disease.
Further, Coconut oil predicted a beneficial lipid profile-raising HDL, lowering triglycerides and small LDL cholesterol particles. Studies have shown that a diet rich in saturated fats actually lowered CVD risk factors due to improvement in HDL and triglycerides to HDL ratio. Indeed, 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines removed any upper limits on dietary fat and eliminated any restrictions on dietary cholesterol, “Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”, they say.
Saturated fats and refined sugar
A high amount of saturated fat from coconut oil is not bad in itself, however, it comes down to how you consume it. The problem occurs when people eat them in a diet with refined grains (high-sugar, high-starch), due to the inflammatory effects of sugar. Using coconut oil for french fries or fritters will contribute to inflammation. Inflammation is one of the major root cause of chronic disease.
Coconut Oil Health Benefits
There are a plethora of studies proving the benefits of coconut oil, I am listing some of them briefly below:
- It contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) that boosts metabolism, reverses insulin resistance and assists in fat loss. MCT oils also improve cognitive function. It is also used as a source of natural treatment for Alzheimer’s.
- It also contains lauric acid, which is antimicrobial and great for immune function. Another source of lauric acid is breast milk. Many diseases today are caused by the overgrowth of bad bacteria, viruses and parasites in the body.
- Besides lauric acid, it contains capric acid and these make it an effective natural treatment for candida and yeast infections.
- It lowers the total cholesterol to HDL ratio – a far better predictor of heart disease than LDL.
The bottom line
Combining healthy fats with a diet free of added sugars helps normalize cholesterol, reduce the risk for CVD, type 2 diabetes, obesity and several other chronic diseases. Coconut oil is a great source of healthy saturated fats and when consumed correctly, has several amazing health benefits. Just like any diet or food, it’s about what works for you.
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