The Coconut Oil Debate: The Danger of Sensationalized Nutrition News
Last month, the American Heart Association released a statement on coconut oil that rocked the online wellness community. The AHA demonized their beloved coconut oil. USA Today’s headline “Coconut Oil is Not Healthy, It Was Never Healthy” went completely viral. People took to social media to vehemently defend their tropical friend.
What is most surprising to me is that nothing new was learned about coconut oil.
There was no groundbreaking research or newfound epiphany. It was simply the AHA releasing their report on dietary fat recommendations. Coconut oil has always been extremely high in saturated fat, which the AHA has continuously recommended be kept to a minimum of 5-6% of one’s daily caloric intake (about 10-11g in a 2,000-calorie diet). A tablespoon of coconut oil falls very close to that, and if you consider burn-off from cooking with it, a tablespoon per day as part of a healthy diet is well within the acceptable range.
What may be more concerning than the actual conclusions from the report, is the way in which the media presented them. In a world of fake news and an increasing trend towards only reading headlines, it is critical to do your own due diligence by reading articles thoroughly and checking the ‘facts.’ Develop a healthy skepticism of ‘new’ research and discuss it with your doctor or dietitian so you can form your own conclusions based on your personal health needs. With regard to coconut oil, below are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Where the AHA report falls short/what most media outlets failed to mention :
The push for soybean oil in the report may be due to funding from Bayer
Bayer Healthcare is a major source of funding for the AHA. Bayer’s Crop Science division manufactures soybean seeds. The newest AHA report places a heavy emphasis on soybean oil, despite its heavy omega 6 content (see below). There are many other polyunsaturated fatty acids that could serve as a healthful substitute for saturated fats, however, the AHA singles out soybean oil repeatedly. Hmmm…,
Omega 6 vs. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
While omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids are both necessary for good health, the ratio of the two plays an important role when it comes to managing inflammation and heart health. The standard American diet has a disproportionate amount of omega 6 fatty acids: soybean oil, corn oil, meat, and poultry. On the other hand, it is severely lacking in omega 3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds.
LDL particle size matters when it comes to heart health
There are two types of LDL particles – pattern A and pattern B. Pattern A are large while pattern B are small and dense. The pattern B particles are more dangerous when it comes to heart health, because their small size allows them to fit in the small gaps of arterial damaged walls, thus increasing inflammation and damage. Pattern B LDL particles are associated with refined carbohydrates, while pattern A is associated with saturated fats.
Benefits of MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil
Many self-proclaimed health gurus tout coconut oil as the magic cure for every ailment you didn’t even know you had! While coconut oil has been shown to raise HDL cholesterol levels (the good type of cholesterol) and exhibit antifungal and antiviral properties, some of these studies have been done with supplemental MCT oil, which is present in coconut oil, but not in the same high proportions., I think coconut oil has the potential for some exciting new research domains and certainly has its place in a balanced diet, but don’t start guzzling multiple tablespoons of coconut oil daily and expect to morph into an immortal goddess.
By: Danielle Bertiger