There has been a lot of confusion with the latest American Heart Association (AHA) study on dietary fats, which specifically talks about coconut oil. This study claims coconut oil is unhealthy and by consuming it you put yourself at a higher risk for heart disease. I’m here to clear a few things up.
Did you know there are more than dozen different types of saturated fat? For simplicity sake, we mostly eat three:
1. stearic acid (long-chain fatty acid) found mostly in cocoa butter, lard, beef fat
2. palmitic acid (long-chain fatty acid) found mostly in palm oil, butter, cheese, milk and meat
3. lauric acid (medium-chain triglyceride-MCT) found mostly in coconut oil and breast milk
Long-Chain fatty acids and MCT are absorbed and utilized in different ways. Long-chain fatty acids have to undergo a digestive process which allows them to travel through the bloodstream and into the tissues that metabolize and store fat. MTC are easily absorbed in the gut and metabolized in the liver where it is burned and used for energy; it is not stored for fat. (1)
In addition to these fundamentally different ways saturated fats are utilized by the body they effect cholesterol differently as well.
Dozens of studies have shown that MCT (found in coconut oil) raises HDL (known as good cholesterol) but it also helps convert “bad” LDL (small denser LDL) to the less harmful LDL (large fluffy LDL). High cholesterol is not the problem (2), the ratio (3) and your specific cholesterol profile determines risk factor.
Not to mention low-fat diets have been linked to age-related cognitive disorders and MCT is protective to brain cells. Studies are showing therapeutic doses of MCT given to Alzheimer’s patients show significant improvement in cognitive functions. (4) Additionally, coconut oil is used by many physicians and alternative care practitioners to detox (5) heavy metals out of the body.
The AHA started a program known as the Heart Check Program which provides a “heart healthy seal of approval” on certain foods. The problem with this is that you have to pay for the seal of approval, which immediately creates a conflict of interest. (6) It brings up the question: Is it a healthy product or is it a paid for product? The AHA claims the fee covers only administrative costs and the products must follow nutritional requirements to be approved. According to a class action lawsuit fees can be upwards of tens of thousands of dollars annually and products that did not meet the nutritional requirements were granted the heart healthy seal anyways! (7)
The AHA has endorsed through the Heart Check Program the following foods: Honey Nut Cheerios, Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oats, Orange Juice and White Bread- just to name a few. Seems a tad bit ironic since several observational studies have come to the same conclusion: when people replace saturated fats with refined carbohydrates, their rate of heart disease goes up, not down. (8) Clinical studies show that refined carbohydrates raise triglycerides, and high triglycerides are at least associated with heart disease, if not an actual cause. (9)
The really interesting part of this conversation is the AHA condemns all saturated fats (paying little to no attention to how saturated fats differentiate from one another) while recommending and promoting a diet that is linked to high inflammation, autoimmune disease, obesity, insulin resistance and heart disease with recommendations of reducing saturated fats and incorporating a carbohydrate heavy diet. (10)
The AHA recommends (11) the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) which suggests a large portion of your diet come from carbohydrates such as grain, bread, pasta and cereal. The recommended breakdown is as follows (based on a 2,100-calorie diet): 55 percent of total calories from carbohydrates, 27 percent of the total calories from fat and 18 percent from protein. (12)
And just a side note: the AHA gives the thumbs up to Margarine, Splenda and Sweet and Low! Yes, I’m serious.
It's my professional opinion that Western medicine has strayed too far from a holistic view point and has entered a phase of truly reductionist medicine. A holistic view declares that things that can not be separated, systems and ailments are always one- you are healthy or you are sick, as a whole being.
A reductionist vantage point says otherwise- you are healthy, but your heart is sick. (13)
From a holistic standpoint to be healthy you need to follow basic guidelines:
-Eat a healthy whole foods diet
-Reduce/Eliminate highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars
-Make sure you are addressing underlining vitamin/mineral deficiencies.
-Stay on top of your health with preventative measures, do not wait until a problem arises to fix it. (If a disease arises you need to work with a specialist to help reverse it, or prevent further damage from occurring, starting with diet and lifestyle modification).
At the end of the day this is your health we are talking about. I encourage you to do your own research, ask questions, speak with practitioners from many disciplines of medicine. You need to be comfortable with the health choices you make for yourself and your family. I'm a massive advocate for informed decision making, which you can't do without asking questions and doing research.
1. Medium Chain Triglycerdies (MCTs): Beneficial Effects on Energy, Atherosclerosis and Aging
2. Your Cholesterol Level is NOT a Great Indicator of Your Heart Disease Risk
3. The Triglyceride/HDL Cholesterol Ratio
4. Nutrition and prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia, PubMed
5. Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application, PubMed
6. Conflict of Interest – Corporate Sponsorship of Health Charities and Organizations
7. Class Action Lawsuit vs. American Heart Association
8.Saturated Fats Versus Polyunsaturated Fats Versus Carbohydrates for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Treatment
9. Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease, PubMed
10. The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease, PubMed
11. The American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
12, Dash Diet Proportions: Carbohydrates, Fat & Protein
13. Holism vs. Reductionism: Comparing the Fundamentals of Conventional and Alternative Medicinal Modalities
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