Is Coconut Oil Really The Enemy?

Coconut oil – it’s a naturally healthy wonder that’s accessible, affordable and versatile. At Be Well, coconut oil is one of our pantry ‘must-haves.’ We love cooking with it, adding it to smoothies and including plenty of it in our paleo meal plans. It adds wonderful flavor to our meals. It’s also a ‘good fat’ that’s rich in medium-chain triglycerides, helpful for boosting good cholesterol, supporting heart and brain health, and potentially helping to curb heart disease risk.

The American Heart Association (AHA), however, feels quite differently. In their 2017 “Presidential Advisory’ on saturated fat, their warning about coconut oil was dire: indulge, and you’re a dead man walking. What did the AHA suggest you consume instead? Vegetable oils derived from soy and corn – crops that are genetically modified and drenched in pesticides!

Granted, the AHA’s no-saturated fat hardline makes good headlines – it was, briefly, global front-page news. But it’s also a mangling of what we know about dietary fat and an over-simplification designed to make people unnecessarily fearful of all fats, whether good, bad or indifferent. Talk about throwing the baby out with the (coconut) bath water!

So what’s really going on here?

The ‘Dump-Sat-Fat-Now’ agenda is powered by Big Pharma.

Everyone has an agenda. We all want to get our point across, myself included. Part of the AHA’s agenda, however, is to treat heart-related medical issues primarily with pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, those drugs come with a host of unpleasant side effects and wind up actually ‘fixing’ very little. With budgets enriched by Big Pharma, it should come as no surprise that the AHA spends time and money lobbying to keep lawmakers in a pro-pharmaceutical state of mind. Effectiveness and safety are low on its list of concerns. Keeping drug fixes at the forefront helps keep Big Pharma revenues high – and with it, contributions to the AHA.

In a strictly self-interested, dollars-and-cents way, it makes sense for the AHA to support easy, pharmaceutical, pop-a-pill ‘solutions’ over kinder-to-the-body, more natural alternatives like coconut oil. You, however, don’t have to follow the pharma party line.

It’s time to get over our collective fat-o-phobia.

For years, we all heard that saturated fat was the enemy. We were oversold the idea that saturated fat was the culprit behind heart attacks, when it was actually sugar and refined carbs that are more likely to do us in. This gave rise to rampant fat-o-phobia, which in turn created a ‘fat-free’ Frankenfood industry. The very profitable cholesterol-lowering drug business successfully convinced millions of people to take statins.

So, did these foods and prescriptions make everyone well? No. Instead of making people healthier, we’ve wound up with an obesity and diabetes epidemic that’s driving up levels of heart disease.

Saturated fat isn’t the killer the AHA would have you believe it to be.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: saturated fat is not the enemy. The AHA propagates the myth that saturated fat boosts bad cholesterol which, they contend, causes cardiovascular disease. Because coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, the AHA continues to push the line that it’s bad for the heart and everyone should ditch it, despite coconut oil’s litany of benefits. According to the AHA’s logic, saturated fat makes cholesterol build plaque inside the arteries. From there, they warn, it’s on to scary consequences: heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

But here’s the cholesterol caveat: The type of LDL cholesterol particles present matter – and the particles you get from coconut oil aren’t the ones that are responsible for most cardiovascular problems.

The truth about “bad” cholesterol.

Yes, it’s true that coconut oil can raise both LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol), and that is is just fine. Low LDL cholesterol numbers are no guarantee of good cardiovascular health; in fact, research indicates that the opposite is true, with low cholesterol actually boosting risk of early death, as one recent study of 12,000 people found.

In the end, the real killers are carbs and sugar, which trigger inflammation, torpedo HDL levels, and encourage insulin resistance – the ultimate table-setters for life-threatening illnesses.

It’s time to enjoy your fat again!

Your body needs and thrives on healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and wild fish – all of which also happen to be essential players for optimal health and wellness. When it comes to saturated fats, the ones you want are found in healthy, minimally-processed whole foods like organic, pasture-raised or grass-fed animals and – yes! – virgin coconut oil. Because it’s high in medium-chain triglycerides, coconut oil gets an A on our health report card.

My advice? Say goodbye to fat-o-phobia and eat your way to good health.

The Be Well Recipe: Grain-Free Cocoa Granola
Be Well Living with Jonny Bowden