As you may know from my blog, heart disease is the world’s number one killer of men and women. It causes 41% of all deaths. So obviously, we are all looking for ways to boost our health that decrease the risk factors for heart disease. Earlier this year, the American Heart Association published a review of its research relating to saturated fat that prompted a flurry of articles and heated conversations, especially about the AHA’s claim that since coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it should be avoided.
Coconut oil was originally considered a healthy food, then in the late 70’s and 80’s, due to the focus on reducing not only saturated fat, but all fats in the diet, it was deemed a food you should only eat rarely and in small quantities.
More recently, as I’m sure most of you know, coconut oil has vaulted onto a list of foods considered to have significant health benefits. It’s been featured as an item favored by celebrities and touted by some of the most popular health food blogs.
So the AHA’s statement this past June that it’s back to being considered a food to avoid, or at least limit severely, sparked a storm of conversation. USA Today published “Coconut Oil Isn’t Healthy. It’s Never Been Healthy” at the same time that the Huffington Post published “Yes, Coconut Oil is Healthy, It’s Always Been Healthy.”
How Do You Know Who to Believe?
First, let’s review the report by the AHA. This wasn’t a new study. It was more of a reminder of the findings of years of research. Those studies show that when saturated fat is removed from the diet and replaced with polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, the risk of cardiovascular disease drops by 30%. This is the same result patients get from statin treatments. Statin drugs are powerful and come with a host of side effects and I have long advocated for lowering your blood cholesterol levels naturally.
However, and this is a very important ‘however’, if saturated fat is removed from the diet and NOT replaced by polyunsaturated fats, but is replaced by carbohydrates, the risk of cardiovascular disease remains the same. There are further studies, like this one from the NIH (National Institute of Health) that indicate the risks of a diet high in refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour) cause more inflammation and lead to more heart disease than diets high in saturated fat.
The Bottom Line
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, but it does also offer some health benefits. In addition to LDL cholesterol, it also provide the good kind of cholesterol, HDL. There is also some research showing it might be beneficial to weight loss.
So, if you enjoy the taste of coconut oil, you don’t have to give it up! As you should do with other saturated fats, watch your intake and be sure to get most of your daily fat from polyunsaturated sources like cold-pressed olive oil and walnuts.
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