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The Truth About Coccnut Oil; Why It's Not As Bad As USA Today Claims

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You may have seen the recent USA Today article, Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy, based on a statement released by the American Heart Association advising Americans to replace saturated fat (as is found in coconut oil) with omega-6 rich polyunsaturated fatty acids from vegetable oils. The article quickly went viral on social media, causing a panic among natural foodies, crunchy moms and those who’ve used coconut as a substitute for vegetable oil and other cooking oils.

But here’s why I don’t want you to panic about coconut oil. Coconut oil is an absolutely healthy fat especially when eaten on a low carbohydrate diet.

When coconut oil is added to a healthy whole foods-based, low-carbohydrate diet, you will see an improvement in your lipid profile over time.

The USA Today article calls coconut oil out for raising the LDL (a.k.a. “bad”) cholesterol levels in seven out of seven controlled trials. But the reality is that on their own, high cholesterol levels are a poor predictor of cardiovascular risk. In fact, the most recent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee no longer considers dietary cholesterol a nutrient of concern, given that there is "no appreciable relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol or clinical cardiovascular events in general populations,” so cholesterol content should not deter you from consumption of saturated fat. (Mozaffarian & Ludwig, 2015)

Low cholesterol has also been indicated as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, suicide, homicide, accidental deaths, and morbid depression. Other research has shown that women with a total cholesterol below 195 mg/dL have a higher risk of mortality compared to women with higher total cholesterol. (Petrusson, Sigurdsson, Bengtsson, Nilsen, & Getz, 2012).

Saturated fats are only a concern when eating with highly refined carbohydrates as in the Standard American Diet.

The saturated fat in coconut oil isn’t all bad for you, either. In fact, recent data in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which compiled data from 21 studies including more than 340,000 people who were followed for an average of 14 years, concluded that there is no clear relationship between the consumption of saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. (Siri-Tarino, Sun, Hu, & Krauss, 2010)

A high-fat diet may actually reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance. A trial published in the American Journal of Nutrition in 2016 showed that eating a high-fat diet improved biomarkers of cardiometabolic risk and insulin resistance. (Veum et al., 2016) Replacing proteins and carbohydrates (sugar, wheat, etc) with healthy fats, including coconut oil, may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. There is little evidence that a low-fat-high-carb diet aids in the prevention of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes or obesity. (Mozaffarian & Ludwig, 2015)

The consumption of extra virgin coconut oil has been demonstrated to significantly reduce body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference and produce significant increases in concentrations of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in patients with coronary artery disease. (Cardoso et al., 2015)

While coconut oil certainly isn’t as unhealthy as the USA Today article claims, it must be consumed in moderation with an otherwise healthy diet. If you simply add coconut oil into your Standard American Diet, you will not see the potential health benefits coconut oil has to offer.

Read more about coconut oil and its benefits here.