Coconut oil is healthy. It’s always been healthy.
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As I’m sure you’ve seen, the American Heart Association (AHA) has made claims that contrary to popular belief, coconut oil is not healthy, nor has it ever been healthy. USA Today put out this article last week that sent people into mass confusion. So what is it? Is it healthy or not? Do we throw out our coconut oil in exchange for vegetable oils like they said?
Put that coconut oil back into your pantry and everything will be just fine. Let’s get into the facts.
Coconut oil is made out of mostly saturated fat. Is this bad?
This is the main claim that the AHA is making. Coconut oil is made up of mostly saturated fat. More specifically, it’s a medium chain triglyceride (you may have heard me speak about MCT oil, a beneficial fat made from coconut oil to help with fat loss). The reason medium chain fatty acids are good for you and help with fat loss is because they are readily burned as fuel, raise metabolic rate and stabilize blood sugar. They also help to transport unsaturated fats as part of triglycerides. The idea that saturated fat causes heart disease is dated, and has been disproven. The AHA is referencing articles from the 1960s to tell you that coconut oil causes heart disease. We will talk more about what their incentive is to do so. Read on…
Aren’t unsaturated fats like vegetable oil better?
Unsaturated fats are also great, when they are clean sources, free from heat damage and genetic modification (canola oil is one of the most highly genetically modified products). Great sources of unsaturated fats are olive oil, hemp and flax oils. These fats however, are not stable in heat, so when they’re heated, they actually turn into trans fats, which are the worst fats for your body. Think of trans fats like puzzle pieces that don’t fit your body, and so they get stored as toxins in the system and cause damage. We want to cook with stable oils (like coconut oil) that will maintain their structure when heated.
Fact: Did you know that food manufacturers can write “zero trans fats” on their packaging even when they are heating vegetable oils (i.e. potato chips), simply because the ingredients don’t contain trans fats before they are processed. Sneaky sneaky.
Coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol.. isn’t that the “bad” cholesterol?
First of all, it’s important to note that most bodies can self-regulate cholesterol, meaning, the more we eat, the less we make and vice versa. Cholesterol problems arise if someone has a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia), or because of constipation! Our body removes excess cholesterol through the bowels. If the bowels are backed up, we will re-absorb the cholesterol leading to higher levels in the body.
Cholesterol is made by the liver, the intestines, the adrenal cortex and the reproductive tissues. It’s one of the most vital substances in the body. It helps us to maintain cell membrane integrity, which helps to protect us from toxins and prevents cell dehydration. It’s also a large component of bile, helps us to emulsify (digest) fat. It’s also important for the creation of hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, aldosterone and cortisol! We can’t live without those. It’s also a precursor for Vitamin D. We need it to utilize the vitamin D we get from the sun, which can help us increase calcium uptake, plays a role in immunity, and has anti-cancer effects. It even acts as an antioxidant when we are low in antioxidants, which help prevent free radical damage (note: low antioxidants in the body is another reason our cholesterol goes up – it’s our body’s way of trying to protect itself from free radical damage). So although we don’t want our cholesterol levels through the roof, we DO need it for many reasons.
LDL stands for low density lipoprotein. A lipoprotein is a cholesterol, triglyceride, and fat-soluble vitamin transport vehicle that’s made by the body.
LDL cholesterol is/was known as “bad” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to the tissues. HDL (high density lipoprotein) carries cholesterol from the tissues to the liver for excretion through bile. We do need both types.
What more recent studies have found is that the size of the LDL helps to determine whether it’s going to be harmful to your health. Coconut oil does not raise harmful LDL levels.
So what makes coconut oil a health food anyway?
Aside from the fact that coconut oil is not a harmful fat (which we have just covered), it also has some pretty amazing health promoting and therapeutic properties.
Coconut oil is:
- anti microbial (due to its lauric acid content, which is also found in breast milk)
- anti viral
- anti inflammatory
- promotes fat loss by boosting metabolism
What happens when fat is removed from foods to make them “low fat”?
When the low fat craze started gaining momentum in the 90s, food manufacturers had to increase the sugar content for taste, and preservatives to keep the food. So in lieu of fat, we were eating foods higher in sugar (without fat to slow down its entrance into the blood stream) causing blood sugar dysfunction, as well as in chemicals that our body doesn’t know what to do with. Milk is a great example of that. The lower the fat content, the higher the sugar and processing.
Sugar is one of the main contributors to inflammation, which can cause chronic inflammatory conditions (think of any condition that ends in -itis), and the lack of natural fats keeps us from feeding our brains and nervous systems (my prediction is that alzheimers, MS, ALS.. will all be on the rise as the low fat followers get older)
Okay… so if this is all true, WHY would the AHA make these ridiculous claims?
This is where things get political. I would love to get into it, but this article explains it in more detail than I could, so please read it to fully understand the motives that the AHA has to confuse and deceive the public.
I will say though, that we have to be very careful when it comes to what we believe in the media. When it comes to “research”, we need to look into who is funding the studies and if they have any bias or conflict of interest.
When it comes to studies on diet or food, it is next to impossible to control the study because there is so much more to health than what goes in your mouth. Exercise, stress, sleep, socioeconomic status, and the list goes on.
Also who’s funding double blind, randomized control trials on coconut oil? No one is! Because there is nothing to gain financially from it, so big corporate funded studies will always hide behind the statement “there is not enough evidence to prove that it’s not bad”. Guilty until proven innocent. Let’s try to understand that mother nature always knows better than someone making our foods in a lab.
Last question… If I have non-genetic high cholesterol, how can I work to lower it naturally?
There are many things you can do to lower your cholesterol naturally. First and foremost, you’ll want to ensure that your bowels are moving adequately, at least one, full bowel movement daily. On top of that, make sure to add tons of antioxidants into the diet. Organic berries and leafy greens are great sources. There are also lots of supplement formulas you can find (NAC, ACES + Zn, CoQ10 etc.). Sunflower lecithin is another great addition, which helps to keep cholesterol in solution so that it doesn’t harden and clog your arteries. You can buy it in powder form at the health food store, and put it in your smoothies!
As a health professional, it is my duty to share this information with you to keep setting the record straight. There is no corporate agenda or funding, just my passion for health, and a need to share it with you all to help you make sense of all the confusion that comes with figuring out how to eat for optimal health and disease prevention! There is no one way to eat, as we are all unique and need to find what works best for our own bodies. But like I said, when in doubt, trust mother nature and what she creates over foods made in a lab and put into boxes with healthy buzz words to draw us in.
So what do we do? Stick to whole foods, avoid anything that has been processed and boxed as well as chemical ingredients in foods, avoid GMO foods (corn, soy, canola, cotton, conventional papaya, zucchini, and tomato), and prevent free radical damage by reducing exposure to toxins as well as eating and supplementing with antioxidants to keep free radicals from harming your body (i.e. eating away at your arteries causing damage, scar tissue, and clogging). Eat as much organically as possible, shop for produce at your local farmer’s market, or better yet, grow your own food! Do the best you can, given the resources that you have, move your body, sleep, don’t stress.. and poof! Optimal health will follow.
Keep up the great work coconut oil! You still have a place in my kitchen!
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