Is Coconut Oil a Health Food? The Truth About Coconut Oil
Is Coconut Oil a Health Food? Coconut oil has quickly risen as a star of the health food industry, and yet mainstream media seems to think otherwise. You’ve probably seen some of the following headlines:
“Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” – USA Today
“Nutrition experts warn coconut oil is on par with beef fat, butter” – Chicago Tribune
“This popular health food is worse for you than pork lard” – Daily Star
“Coconut Oil Isn’t As Healthy As We Thought, According To Depressing New Study” – Elite Daily
All of these headlines were prompted by a statement made by the American Heart Association review, “showing [that] coconut oil increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in seven out of seven controlled trials.” Today as Health Hunters, we are going to explore the roots of the low-fat movement, the myth of LDL cholesterol, and ways in which coconut oil (and other fats) can be both good and bad for you.
Birth Of The Low-fat, No-Fat Movement
Ancel Keys is the infamous researcher who pioneered the movement against fat. He was the first person to conduct a multi-country study, in which he analyzed the relationship between fat consumption and mortality. It was his study that demonstrated a negative relationship between saturated fat consumption and longevity and triggered the fear of saturated fat that still lingers to this day. The problem with his study is that Keys cherry-picked seven countries to fit with his hypothesis, and only included them in the study. Had keys included France and Switzerland in his study instead of, say, Japan and Greece, he would have come up with an entirely different conclusion– in this case, being that the consumption of saturated fat is beneficial to a healthy heart.
The study that demonized saturated fats was flawed, and drew conclusions based on correlation, NOT causation!
The headlines you saw above regarding coconut oil were born from the misleading statement made by the AHA, and this deserves to be dissected as well. Why do media outlets release articles? To be read. And what encourages reads? Big, dramatic, controversial, and inflated headlines. These headlines apply not only to the coconut oil saga but politics, religion, international relations—and even the weather. Mainstream media is always looking to hook you in with a big headline, and rarely do they do their due diligence when it comes to questioning the integrity or the truth behind their statements. We are so bombarded by the news these days that the most important thing for most news publications is that they release the headline first—whether it is factual or not. These posts go viral, and the job is done. They are then onto the next story.
Unfortunately, we cannot rely on mainstream media to tell us the truth. It is your responsibility in this day and age to be a Health Hunter: to seek out the truth behind the headlines.
The bottom line is this: If we look at what the headlines are saying based on the concept that LDL cholesterol is bad then indeed, they would be correct. But unfortunately, LDL is entirely misunderstood by not only mainstream media but also the mainstream medical system as well. Coconut oil does raise LDL, but we’re about to explore why this isn’t actually a bad thing.
180-Degree Concept: LDL Isn’t Relevant
If you go by the theory that LDL-cholesterol raising saturated fat is bad for you then coconut oil is a bad guy when it comes to cardiovascular health. The AHA article compares the saturated fat content of pork lard (39%) to beef fat (50%), to butter (63%), to coconut oil (82%) on a scale of bad to worst, but fail to examine the underlying relationship between LDL cholesterol, saturated fats, and heart disease.
First of all, LDL cholesterol cannot be looked at in isolation from the bigger picture, which involved HDL, and triglycerides. The more direct relationship between saturated fats and cholesterol is that it raised HDL (the alleged good cholesterol) and lowers triglycerides, which is a good thing.
Here is an analogy that might make more sense:
Q- What makes a traffic jam worse:
the number of cars or the number of people in vehicles?
A- The number of cars.
You see, cholesterol cannot just float around in the blood; it is carried in what we call particles. The cholesterol would be the people in the cars, and the cars themselves would be the particles. Simply saying that saturated fat raises cholesterol (i.e., the number of people in the cars) has no direct relationship with clogging up the highway (your arteries) with actual cars (the particles).
It’s the number of cars (particle) that matters,
not merely how many people (cholesterol) are in each car (particle).
So does cholesterol, or does coconut oil raise the number of cars (or particles) that carry the cholesterol? The answer is no, and matter of fact, more often than not, it decreases the number of particles that carry cholesterol (or the number of cars), which is a good thing.
As far as heart disease goes, your total LDL is a non-issue.
Coconut oil is shown to lower the number of these more dangerous small particles, and there is higher mortality (more deaths) for people that have low cholesterol than people that for those that have high cholesterol.
Yes: low cholesterol is more dangerous than high cholesterol.
180-Degree Concept: (Good) Fat is Good For You
If you’ve been following me or Health Hunters for a while now, this won’t be news to you—but not only is fat not bad for you; it is incredibly good for you. We need (healthy) fats to regenerate our cell membranes, properly detoxify (release old stored toxins), and to heal our hormone receptors. A lack of healthy fats is contributing to the hormone epidemic we’re witnessing, and that’s a problem.
Healthy Fats include:
- Fatty cuts of pasture-raised meat
- Isolated pasture-raised meat fats (like beef tallow and pork lard)
- Whole, unpasteurized yogurt
- Raw grass-fed cheeses
- Raw grass-fed butter
- Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
- Cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil
- Dark chocolate (cacao butter)
- Whole pasture-raised eggs
- Wild fatty fish (like salmon, anchovies, mackerel, and sardines)
- Sprouted nuts
- Chia seeds
Not all fats are created equal, but the reality is even a “good” fat can be made toxic.
What Makes A Good Fat, Bad?
Problem 1: The Processing
The more we process things, the further they get from nature, and the worse it generally becomes for our health. Coconut oil, for example, contains many things that are positive for our health: medium-chain triglycerides, we need those. They’re great. The saturated fats, we need them. They’re great. So how might coconut oil become unhealthy? You got it: processing.
Processing, and particularly the use of heat (when it comes to fats), destroys the chemical structure and can turn an excellent fat bad. We call this “denaturing,” which essentially ruins components of the oil including polyphenols and flavonoids. In doing so, the oil becomes oxidized (or rancid) and is quite damaging to your health. Generally, you can smell it when you open up a jar of coconut oil: it smells off.
To mitigate this risk, you want to be buying only cold-pressed extra virgin oils, which means they are made using no heat.
Problem 2: Cutting with Other Oils
High-Quality organic oil is expensive to make, and even more costly to buy. Because of this, many restaurants and oil companies are cutting their expensive oil with cheaper vegetable oil. Olive oil is particularly susceptible to this trick, and it can be assumed that if the oil is cheap—it’s because it has been cut with vegetable oil. Dr. Sinatra is the celebrity cardiologist who will no longer touch olive oil. Despite being Italian and loving the stuff, he no longer trusts olive oil companies (even Italian ones) to produce pure, high-quality olive oil.
What’s the problem with vegetable oils? Well, to start, they are polyunsaturated, which are very unstable. Unstable means they become oxidized (rancid) very quickly, which makes them poisonous when consumed.
Vegetable Oils to Avoid:
- Canola Oil
- Corn Oil
- Soybean Oil
- “Vegetable” oil
- Peanut Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
Consuming these rancid oils has been shown to cause inflammation at the cellular level for 102 days.
It’s for this reason that I recommend consuming all polyunsaturated fats in their natural form. The type of fat is too fragile to process safely, so things like fish oils and flaxseed oils (also polyunsaturated) are great- but to be consumed as whole fish, and freshly ground flaxseeds only.
Problem 3: Heat, Part 2
We know that heating and over-processing (Problem 1) denatures a fat and turns it toxic—but this is a problem you need to be mindful of even after buying your cold-pressed, extra virgin oils. How do you use oils in cooking? Heating a good oil at home while you cook causes the same problem, even when using high-quality oil.
To avoid this problem, you don’t want to be browning or taking any oil to its smoke point (when you see smoke coming off the pan). Butter is a very stable and healthy saturated fat, but if you brown it, you’ve denatured the fat and turned it rancid.
Problem 4: Glyphosate and Other Herbicides/ Pesticides
There is a problem with all of our food today: the use of dangerous hormone-disrupting, gut destroying, herbicides, and pesticides. The only way to mitigate this risk is buying only organic, trusted brands. Fat stores toxins, and so if you’re consuming fats from factory farm-raised, GMO fed animal products and sprayed vegetables, you will be ingesting a concentrate of pollutants. When buying your good oils and fats, they must be of the highest organic quality.
Problem 5: Stored in Plastic
And last, but not least, make sure your oils are not stored in plastic. As Problem 4 explains, fats store toxins. If you’re buying a high quality organic, extra virgin olive or coconut oil in plastic jars, it will leach toxins from the plastic and store them in their particles. You will then be ingesting health-harming toxins, despite your efforts to buy the good stuff. Opt for oils and fats stored in glass instead.
The 180-Degree Solution Summary
- Buy minimally processed oils (cold-pressed / extra virgin)
- Consume polyunsaturated (vegetable oils) in their original state (i.e., fish instead of fish oil)
- Buy the highest quality (organic, stored in glass)
- When cooking, keep them as un-heated as possible (toss it if they go beyond the smoke point)