You can’t look too far without coming across a claim about coconut oil. Some good, including uses for skin care, hair conditioner and oil pulling, and some bad touting 90% saturated fat is bad for your heart.
The recent American Heart Association paper on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease got everyone all up in arms and confused. In one small section of this paper they lump coconut oil with other saturated fats and say its going to raise cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease. This paper from 2017 is about saturated fat, not necessarily about coconut oil.
Let’s get into the facts. Coconut oil is extracted from the coconut meat. It is mostly saturated fat which raises LDL cholesterol – the ‘bad’ cholesterol. LDL cholesterol has been used to predict cardiovascular disease risk. But coconut oil also raises the HDL, which is often considered the ‘GOOD’ cholesterol, thanks to the high content of a fatty acid called lauric acid. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol are linked to lower rates of strokes and heart disease. Countries that have the highest intakes of coconut oil have the lowest rates of heart disease.
As Dr Mark Hyman put it, “As a doctor, I tell patients that abnormal cholesterol can become a problem when it is the small dense LDL particles, accompanied by high triglycerides Ultimately, the ratio of total to LDL cholesterol and particle number and size are a far bigger predictor of heart attacks than LDL itself.”
There’s a real difference in the type of saturated fats in coconut oil versus a burger from a fast food restaurant. So the source and quality really come into play.
I very much appreciate that Dr Hyman is also quick to call out that “total cholesterol is not an accurate predictor of heart disease or stroke. Inflammation is the culprit for most diseases, and coconut oil is highly anti-inflammatory.”
So is coconut oil a superfood? Should you eat it or avoid it? There’s no one magic pill. In my view, the true superfoods are often overlooked- like broccoli and apples. But even those depend on the person.
I believe coconut oil can be a healthy part of your diet, but how much you should eat each day will depend on what else is going on in your health currently. I’m also a huge proponent of eating locally and seasonally. Coconuts don’t grow in my backyard but being in the Midwest we are home to dairy cows. I tend to reach for the ghee (grass-fed butter that has had the milk solids removed) first, but coconut oil is definitely part of my diet.
Need a little help with understanding which foods are right for you? Please do reach out, that’s what I’m here for.