A recent report by the American Heart Association has called into question the legitimacy of coconut oil as a "health food," leading many news sites to report that coconut oil is unsafe, unhealthy to consume, and should be avoided.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion surrounding this report's findings, and a lot of that confusion has to do with how the report is being interpreted by news reporters and writers who have a less-than-ideal understanding of human health and nutrition.
Many news reports have blown the findings of the AHA report out-of-proportion and, in some cases, have downright misinterpreted the information altogether.
The truth is that coconut oil is still perfectly safe and healthy to consume in proper portions. At the end of the day, it's really about knowing your body and what works for you.
Still, it is worth examining the realities of this American Heart Association coconut oil report to achieve a better understanding of what possible effects saturated fats can have on the body and on heart health specifically.
Why the Confusion?
For starters, it is worth noting that the American Heart Association coconut oil study focused primarily on the use of saturated fats and their effects on heart health.
Coconut oil does contain high levels of saturated fats, but the study itself was not focused just on coconut oil.
In fact, according to one article, "only a handful of studies in the American Heart Association's report deal with coconut oil specifically." Instead, the report looked at individuals who began replacing saturated fats with other foods in their diet.
Those who replaced them with unsaturated fats were found to be at a slightly lower risk of developing heart disease.
The confusion, however, stems from the fact that the American Heart Association coconut oil study did not indicate that eating more saturated fats will directly increase a person's risk of heart disease.
Understanding Cholesterol and Heart Health
One legitimate finding in regards to AHA coconut oil that is worth mentioning is that it does tend to increase both HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
HDL is considered "good" cholesterol, although having higher levels of LDL is generally considered detrimental to a person's health.
However, it's extremely important to understand that no two person's bodies are exactly the same, so there is no legitimacy in making a universal statement that higher levels of LDL caused by eating coconut oil are going to lead to heart disease.
The connection simply isn't there, contrary to what some news reports have been trying to claim.
In reality, it's beneficial to one's health that coconut oil lowers overall triglyceride levels and increases that "good" cholesterol. There is no disputing these facts.
The issue here is that people have a poor understanding of the actual connection between LDL levels and heart disease. It is fair to say that extremely high LDL levels are not good, but there are also different forms of LDL, and this must also be taken into consideration.
Some types of LDL, for example, are inflammatory and are therefore associated with higher risk of heart disease.
On the other hand, the larger LDL particles are not proven to be dangerous to heart health.
In fact, according to one doctor, "High fat consumption from clean sources such as monosaturated fats (olive oil) and even saturated fat (coconut oil) in a diet mainly free from sugar and flours and high in vegetables and fibers can actually improve cholesterol composition."
With this in mind, then, it doesn't seem reasonable to make blanket statements about coconut oil being detrimental to heart health, and there is absolutely no proven connection between coconut oil and risk of heart disease.
Controlling Portions and Servings
Overall, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using coconut oil, especially in cooking. The key is knowing how much is healthy for you personally.
For some people, fewer saturated fats will lead to better health. For others, the exact opposite is true. It's a matter of knowing your body and, specifically, your heart. If you haven't done so in the past few years, it may be a good time to have some heart and blood testing done.
Blood tests in particular will give you better insight as to your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, which will help you make better informed decisions regarding your diet and nutrition.
For more people, however, a tablespoon or so a day of coconut oil in your diet is not going to harm you, especially when used in cooking as a substitute for vegetable oils (which, by the way, actually are inflammatory and bad for your health).
Why Coconut Oil is Still a Health Food
Coconut oil, for all intents and purposes, should still be considered a health food when consumed in moderation.
After all, concerns about cholesterol and heart health aside, coconut oil does offer a number of proven benefits to a person's health.
For starters, because it contains medium-chain triglycerides, it is great for boosting metabolism and supporting fat loss.
Furthermore, it contains lauric acid, which is antimicrobial and actually found in breast milk as well. And unlike many other types of oils with long-chain fatty acids, coconut oil is:
- Easier for the body to break down and digest
- Better processed by the liver
- Less likely to be stored as fat
And of course, this doesn't even begin to touch on the other practical and beneficial uses for coconut oil, such as for the skin and hair.
With all the news reports that have followed the AHA's findings on saturated fats and cholesterol, it's easy to feel a little confused and unsure of what to believe.
However, doctors and health professionals who have actually taken the time to read the full American Heart Association coconut oil report have helped to quell confusion and restate the facts: there is no evidence to link coconut oil specifically to a higher risk of heart disease, and coconut oil does increase HDL and reduce triglcyerides—both of which are great for heart health.
When consumed in moderation and with your body's specific needs in mind, there is no reason to believe that coconut oil will have a negative effect on your heart health.