Recently in the news, coconut oil has been vilified. The American Heart Association claims that because coconut oil is saturated, it increases LDL or “bad” cholesterol and therefore is bad for your heart health. They recommend consuming canola or vegetable oil. This makes me cringe. Let me explain how they came to this conclusion and why I think we should be careful with what we take at face value.
Not all Saturated Fats are Created Equal
There are short, medium and long chain triglycerides (fatty acids). Coconut oil’s saturated fat is in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCT). It is the long chain fatty acids that can increase LDL or “bad” cholesterol. MCT's actually raise good cholesterol (HDL).
Just to make things more complicated, not all LDL cholesterol is bad. What really matters is the size and density of LDL. Smaller, dense LDL is what can clog up your arteries. High triglycerides also have a negative impact on cardiovascular health.
Just getting the total number of LDL cholesterol tested does not give you the true cardiovascular risk. OHIP will only cover the basic test, but if you want to know what size your LDL cholesterol is and other markers of cardiovascular risk, you’ll want to do a more thorough test such as this https://www.doctorsdata.com/cardiovascular-risk-profile/ . You’ll have to pay for it yourself though but it will give you a better indication of your true risk (starting at $300 and getting the blood draw done in either London or Toronto). Alternatively, you can get the following individual tests done at Lifelabs: Apolipoprotein A1 and B, Lipid panel, C-Reactive Protein, Insulin-like Growth Factor, Inflammation Panel and Homocysteine levels for about the same price.
When not used in the short term for the body, carbohydrates and simple sugars will turn into bad fat and will increase your risk of heart disease, not just from consuming fat. It goes back to debunking the reality that fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. It’s sugar that’s the devil and the “fat free fad” is slowly coming to an end. Foods that are fat free are often filled with sugar which are implicated in having a much worse effect on your health.
Controversial conflict of interest:
The American Heart Association (AHA) receives funding from Nestlé, Coca-Cola, The Sugar Association, the United Soybean Board and the US Canola Association. It is with no surprise that they would cherry pick the studies that show the ill-effects of coconut oil but that make unsaturated fats like canola and soy oils sound amazing.
Check out their conflict of interest here.
At the end of the day, one must be very careful when analyzing data and it's easy to generalize when talking about saturated fat. The form of saturated fat in coconut oil is not typical and studies show it actually raises good cholesterol in the body. Sugar, simple carbohydrates and stress on the body can have a much more detrimental effect on overall heart health.