The Coconut Oil Health Craze

Is It a Big Fat Lie?

OK. We’ve seen a lot of backlash over the American Heart Association’s (AHA) study, which shows that coconut oil can be bad for your heart. Even though we’ve posted links to the study, some just don’t believe the science. Many are still insisting that coconut oil is a healthy food, and that any warnings over it being unhealthy are unfounded. So, to show why the AHA arrived at this conclusion, we decided to take a closer look at coconut oil— and see why it’s now being touted as an unhealthy food.

Most of the peer-scientific research has stood by the AHA’s findings in their new report. In fact, the research in the study was done by some of the leading experts on fats and cardiovascular health— among them, Dr. Frank Sacks of Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein, at Tufts University, lead authors of the report.

But once again, a lot of you have not believed the findings. So here’s a follow-up article on the AHA’s findings and why coconut oil is not the best to use when it comes to good heart health.

Dr. Lichtenstein told us via email: “There are no known benefits to using coconut oil in place of vegetable oils such as soybean, canola and corn oils. There is a disadvantage. Whereas most vegetable oils are high in either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fatty acids, coconut oil, sometimes referred to as a tropical oil, is high in saturated fatty acids. The data consistently demonstrate that replacing sources of dietary saturated fatty acids with sources of unsaturated fatty acids, either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, improves cardiovascular disease risk factors and is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk.”

The research has shown that the most atherogenic, saturated fatty acids that also raise LDL (bad) cholesterol are found in coconut oil (palmitic, myristic and lauric acid). Coconut oil has 82 percent of these saturated fats. Not only is coconut oil the richest source of saturated fat, but also the richest source of saturated fatty acids (palmitic, myristic and lauric acids). Now, a lot of you also say some saturated fats are not bad for you. Not all saturated fats have a negative effect on LDL (bad) cholesterol. For instance, stearic acid, a saturated fat found in cocoa butter, does not raise LDL cholesterol, according to recent research.

So what about medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a form of fat that has shorter chains of fatty acids? Claims that the majority of fat in coconut oil are from MCTs is untrue. Most of the positive research has been done on pure MCT oil, not coconut oil. It’s inaccurate to apply the research on pure 100 percent MCT oil to coconut oil, which only has 13 percent of MCTs.

In one teaspoon of coconut oil, the count is 4.5 grams of fat and 3.9 grams of it is saturated fat. If you have a recipe that calls for three teaspoons, you’re still eating 11.7 grams of saturated fat with high degrees of palmitic acid, and not enough monounsaturated fats (good fats). So, what’s a healthier alternative? A better alternative, as Dr. Lichtenstein said earlier, is to replace the saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (fish oil, vegetable oil) or monounsaturated fats (extra-virgin olive oil).

If you choose to stay with coconut oil, we understand. It is OK to use from time to time, and has many other benefits such as a hair conditioner and great moisturizer.

Reference:

Frank M. Sacks, Alice H. Lichtenstein, et al. on behalf of the American Heart Association. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation, June 15, 2017.

J.A. Giresi

J.A. Giresi is a contributing editor for FitnessRx and Muscular Development. She is a native Long Islander and the author of the novels The Turn of the Dime, Billy’s Cascade and Potholes: A Tale of Murder, Road Rage & Romance. She is also a founding partner and CEO of Double J IT Consulting Services. For more information, visit jagiresi.com

Twitter: @jwgiresi

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