Confused About Coconut Oil? Here’s What You Should Know

In case you missed it, the American Heart Association (AHA) just released a bombshell of a report that reviewed existing data on saturated fats and went as far as to say they advise against the use of coconut oil. While it’s true that coconut oil, like all fats, can be problematic when consumed in excess, we still have a long way to go before we start shooting down this long-revered health staple.

Because it’s so high in saturated fat (one tablespoon contains 12 grams of it alone), its health benefits are often called into question. While it is true that coconut oil can raise LDL levels (bad cholesterol), it also elevates HDL levels (the good cholesterol), too. One Brazilian study published in the journal of Hospital Nutrition, analyzed 116 adults of both sexes and grouped them into two groups: one with a diet consisting of extra virgin coconut oil and one without. After monthly measurements that included everything from body mass and waist circumference to blood pressure and glucose levels, they found that the group associated with extra virgin coconut oil consumption had increased HDL-C levels.

What about the fact that coconut oil can raise LDL levels (bad cholesterol) too? Well, this is true, however, the jury is still out on exactly how that will impact people. For example, one study of more than 12,000 people, found that low cholesterol—not high—increased an individual’s risk of early death. Coconut oil has medium chain triglycerides, which are fats that slow digestion, balance gut bacteria and solve the real problems behind heart disease: high blood sugars and insulin dysregulation.

It’s important to talk about preventing heart disease, especially when it’s the number one killer among men and women, with one in four Americans suffering from some kind of cardiovascular disease. It’s also costing out health system hundreds of billions of dollars a year (crazy, right!?). So when it comes to preventing heart disease, it’s important to really look at the root of the cause, which is the same as many of the other diseases we deal with today: inflammation. Managing and thinking about inflammation is really where our heads need to be.

Where to begin? 

It all starts with an anti-inflammatory diet, consisting of lowering sugar, gluten and dairy and upping your intake of plant-based foods with lots of healthy fats. Exercise also plays a vital role in preventing heart disease. It increases the HDL (good) levels of cholesterol in your body, while lowering the LDL (bad) levels, and also helps to manage stress (something I think we all can benefit from. Chronic stress is a huge problem in this country and can lead to heart disease independent from every other factor. That means you can be eating right, sleeping right, exercising, but if you’re not managing stress, you’re still at risk for heart disease.

Another way you can prevent heart disease is through supplements— Coq10 and B vitamins both help rebuild the heart and omega-3s, the good fats, lower cholesterol and keep your blood flowing nicely throughout your heart.

Back to cholesterol—yes, it’s important to keep it low, but if you’re trying to manage your cholesterol, a good starting point is figuring out what kind of cholesterol problem you have. If you have a lot of small particles, that may justify medication, whereas larger particles or just high triglycerides may be manageable through diet, exercise and stress management.

Some things to keep in mind in regards to the AHA’s recent report is that they have issues questionable guidelines in the past. It’s important to keep a wide perspective when it comes to these kinds of no-nos, as everything (even some healthy foods) are meant to be consumed in moderation. Your body does need saturated fat, since nearly half of our cell membranes are made up of the stuff. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which has antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiviral properties, so it is certainly still a good oil to keep on your shelves.