Last week, the AHA posted a position statement advising against the use of coconut oil. The media ran with the negative headline and social media exploded with questions regarding its safety. #coconutoil was even trending on Twitter. It is time to set the record straight and list the facts on why you should NOT stop using coconut oil and how it is healthy for you!
AHA Position: Coconut oil should be avoided as it increases LDL (bad cholesterol) and thus increases cardiovascular risk.
So while this is partially true, there is MUCH more to this statement that needs to be addressed.
Coconut oil is predominately a saturated fat, which increase BOTH good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Advances in cardiovascular medicine show the “labels” of good and bad cholesterol are not as simple as we once thought and not all LDL is bad!
LDL is found in two forms: small and dense or large and fluffy particles. The small and dense LDL particles increase inflammation and plaque formation and therefore increase cardiovascular risk (1). While coconut oil increases LDL, it is important to note that it increases the particle size to large and fluffy which decreases cardiovascular risk. Additionally, coconut oil decreases the number of particles a test known as LDL-P, which measures how many particles are in the blood stream (2). This marker is emerging as one of the more important lipid tests in assessing cardiovascular risk in comparison to the LDL-c (standard measurement) which measures how much cholesterol LDL particles are carrying. As cardiovascular medicine advances, studies are also showing that low LDL can actually increase risk if the reduction comes at the expense of large and fluffy particles. (3)
Coconut oil is also abundant in MCTs -medium chain triglycerides. MCTs decrease cardiovascular risk, by lowering total cholesterol and triglycerides. Another incredible benefit of MCT oil is that it helps improve metabolism and decrease appetite which can help individuals lose weight, (4) thus again lowering cardiac and stroke risk!
Saturated fats are also rich in fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Specifically coconut oil has both anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties(5), and helps promote wound healing too.
With decades of research and data highlighting the benefits of coconut oil, it is confusing how the AHA could release a position statement against its use. Then again, they also promote this…
It is also important to note the form of coconut oil. Coconut oil used in packaged, processed foods can contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats). Packaged foods that typically contain trans fats include: crackers, doughnuts, margarine/shortening, cookies, processed cereals, salad dressings, mayonnaise and pastries. As you see, many of these foods are refined grains and contain sugars which are associated with cardiovascular disease. Always, read labels to avoid trans fats and choose virgin coconut oil instead of processed.
If you are still concerned with saturated fat and its impact on your cholesterol, I recommend you ask for an expanded lipid panel (NMR) from your physician or order it on your own here. NMR’s will direct measure size and particle numbers of LDL, HDL and VLDL.
Bottom Line: Instead of avoiding coconut oil…avoid trans fats, limit or avoid inflammatory omega 6 fats, refined carbohydrates, sugars and excessive alcohol as these will without a doubt increase your cardiovascular risk.