The American Heart Association recently released a statement advising against the use of coconut oil, and the internet went bonkers.
And for good reason, I suppose…
After an exhaustive meta-analysis of many different studies on saturated fats and the risk of cardiovascular concerns, the AHA is strongly advising the public to lower their intake of saturated fats, like coconut oil, and replace them with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) to lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease.
The AHA is making suggestions based on what the average American eats and the resultant pitfalls of that diet.
As a result of decades of overeating sugar and processed foods, we have slowly compromised our digestive strength. The epicenter of this digestive demise is the liver and gallbladder. Today, the #1 elective abdominal surgery is gallbladder removal surgery. (1)
If we continue to eat the Standard American Diet (SAD) – which is loaded with processed food and sugar and low on fiber – then, yes, adding a saturated fat like butter, ghee or coconut oil would NOT be beneficial.
The Dangers of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
The reason why processed foods stay “good” for so long is due to the addition of highly processed, bleached, boiled and deodorized vegetable oils – called polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs.
PUFAs are highly indigestible and are linked to a host of health concerns including blood sugar, belly fat, blood pressure, and triglyceride- and cholesterol-related concerns. (2)
Many of these health concerns have been correlated with a lack of bile production or congestion in the bile ducts or gallbladder. Gallbladder congestion and poor bile flow are also linked to reduced digestive strength and difficulty processing dietary fats like coconut oil.
When one eats a diet that is high in sugar and low in fiber, the ability to digest saturated fats becomes more difficult. Fiber is required to escort bile and unwanted fat to the toilet. Fiber also maintains a healthy gut microbiome. When we combine a diet high in sugar and processed foods with a diet high in saturated fats, which are another fuel supply for the body, we can easily overshoot the body’s energy needs.
The extra unused fuel will be deposited as fat around the belly, in the arteries, the lymph and the rest of the body. (2)
Coconut Oil’s Effect on Cholesterol
In the studies cited by the American Heart Association, here’s what they found about coconut oil and butter: (8)
Lowered triglyceride levels. This is great, as high triglycerides are an independent risk factor for heart disease.
Increased HDL levels – which are considered to be the “good” cholesterol particles.
Increased overall cholesterol levels. This is not a major concern, as cholesterol was removed as a primary risk factor for heart concerns.
Increased LDL levels – which are considered the “bad” cholesterol particles. Not good.
When LDL levels increase due to oxidation and/or damage from processed foods and excess sugar in the diet, they become very damaging to the cardiovascular system. (4,5)
The Shortcomings of the Studies
In most of these studies, the researchers used safflower oil as the polyunsaturated fatty acid to compare to coconut oil. Safflower oil is well-known to reduce cholesterol levels. (3)
The consumption of highly omega-6, refined polyunsaturated fatty acids has also been linked to increased risk of heart health concerns, however.
Vegetables oils, such as canola, soy, sunflower, corn, grapeseed, safflower, rice bran, cottonseed oil and, of course, those fake butter spreads like margarine are all rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Our intake of these PUFAs has significantly increased in recent decades. Studies have shown a shift away from the intake of omega-3 (fish oil) fatty acids to the intake of more highly processed omega-6 (vegetable oil) fatty acids.
Historically, humans ate more omega-3’s than omega-6’s. Since this dramatic shift, there has been an associated increase in obesity, blood sugar and heart health concerns. (10)
While an exhaustive meta-analysis on the difference between omega-3 (fish oils) and omega-6 (vegetable oils) was inconclusive, omega-6 PUFA vegetable oils have been found to be pro-inflammatory. Because they lower cholesterol levels, they were quickly adopted as healthy alternatives to saturated fats.
More studies need to be done on the intake of specific kinds of omega-6 fatty acids, as not all PUFAs are created equally. (9)
Suggesting that highly processed, bleached, boiled and deodorized polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids are somehow better than pure coconut oils or saturated fats seems misleading. (7)
For healthy people who are not consuming processed foods and do not fall into the Standard American Diet (SAD) category, a certain amount of saturated fat can be beneficial.
This has been proven time and time again in cultures where large amounts of saturated fats and coconut oils are consumed. In those coconut-eating cultures, cardiovascular disease rates are consistently lower than in Western-diet cultures. (3)
When these traditional cultures begin eating more processed food and a westernized diet, the benefits of coconut oil were quickly reversed. (3)
Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, “You cannot have your cake and eat it too.” We get our energy from either saturated fat or starch.
Eating a sugary and highly processed food diet with a resultant congested liver and gallbladder, all with some coconut oil spread on top, is a true recipe for disaster.
How to Use Coconut Oil
- Use coconut oil for cooking as it is highly resistant to heat.
- Before consuming larger amounts of coconut oil, such as 1-2 teaspoons per day, remove processed foods, sugar and refined polyunsaturated fatty acids from your diet.
- Evaluate your ability to digest fatty foods or greasy, fried food. If you experience heartburn, indigestion, bloating or nausea, consider a reset to your digestive strength and look into support for your liver and gallbladder.
- For more information, please read my liver and gallbladder articles, as well as my FREE Safe Liver & Gallbladder Cleansing eBook and consider a digestive reset with one of our cleanses like the 4-Day Short Home Cleanse (SHC) or 2-week Colorado Cleanse.