The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published information indicating that a diet high in saturated fats is correlative with increased cardiovascular disease risk factors (1). This report created a media frenzy and subsequent confusion within the general population regarding the use of coconut oil in a well-balanced diet. The report offered sound, yet incomplete, information in our opinion. The bold statement denouncing coconut oil as unhealthy has led to a variety of headlines including, “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy.” Before we recommend our patients give up coconut oil and replace this form of saturated fat with vegetable oils, we must gain a better understanding of how these compounds interact with the body.
The AHA report provided excellent recommendations regarding the use of healthy fat (wild fish, olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds), but also suggested replacing coconut oil with vegetable oils (canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil). According to recent studies, multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown no direct correlation between saturated fat (i.e. coconut oil) consumption and heart disease. However, the AHA based their report off of four older studies with publication dates in 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1979. Studies similar to these have created the low-fat craze that has contributed to an epidemic of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 30.3 million people have diabetes. This accounts for approximately 9.4% of the population (2). This value has risen significantly from 5.53 million diagnosed in 1980. Exponential growth occurred at a time when recommendations revolved around reducing fat intake. It is common knowledge that individuals with insulin resistance or Diabetes have higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
We must begin to ask deeper questions. What is the primary culprit? Why have we seen such a demise in our health since the recommendations to reduce fat and include polyunsaturated fatty acids like soybean oil, canola oil, and corn oil?
The recommended coconut oil substitutes are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 rich fats. These omega-6 rich foods create an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 within the body. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and are found in wild fish, wild game, and wild plants. To replace coconut oil with pro-inflammatory omega-6 rich oils does not make physiological sense. We must begin to consider other mechanisms at play and keep in mind that certain food interactions can create a negative internal environment. Therefore, it is important to not demonize one food group without considering the whole picture.
We do not believe in a one size fits all approach to health. It is essential to have a comprehensive workup, history, and exam performed to determine your individual needs. It is not always wise to make drastic dietary decisions without knowledge of the underlying chemistry. Also, it may not be necessary to remove coconut oil when your diet is high in plant based foods, low in processed foods and inflammatory oils, and high in other anti-inflammatory foods.
Before replacing coconut oil with the recommended vegetable oils, consider the observed benefits of coconut oil. Literature shows that coconut oil improves blood lipid profiles (3), is anti-inflammatory (4), is antimicrobial (5), may enhance the antioxidant system (6), and may protect against Alzheimer’s disease (7). We must continue to strive for a better understanding of how food has the potential to act as medicine. One should eat according to how they are genetically predisposed (not genetically pre-determined) and in accordance with their immune system.
Fats and Oils Recommended by CAMP
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Nuts and Seeds (If tolerated by the immune system)
- Grass-Fed meats and butter
- Wild Fish (Rich in Omega-3’s)
Keep in mind the fact that these foods must be consumed in moderation and not in conjunction with a highly processed pro-inflammatory diet. Please see our post on Nutrition to gain a better understanding of our approach.
- Sacks, Frank M., Alice H. Lichtenstein, Jason H.y. Wu, Lawrence J. Appel, Mark A. Creager, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Michael Miller, Eric B. Rimm, Lawrence L. Rudel, Jennifer G. Robinson, Neil J. Stone, and Linda V. Van Horn. “Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association.” Circulation136.3 (2017): n. pag. Web. 18 July 2017.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services, 2017.
- Nevin, K.g., and T. Rajamohan. “Beneficial Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil on Lipid Parameters and in Vitro LDL Oxidation.” Clinical Biochemistry 37.9 (2004): 830-35. Web. 18 July 2017.
- Intahphuak, S., P. Khonsung, and A. Panthong. “Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic, and Antipyretic Activities of Virgin Coconut Oil.” Pharmaceutical Biology 48.2 (2009): 151-57. Web. 18 July 2017.
- Shilling, Michael, Laurie Matt, Evelyn Rubin, Mark Paul Visitacion, Nairmeen A. Haller, Scott F. Grey, and Christopher J. Woolverton. “Antimicrobial Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil and Its Medium-Chain Fatty Acids On Clostridium Difficile.” Journal of Medicinal Food 16.12 (2013): 1079-085. Web. 18 July 2017.
- Arunima, S., and T. Rajamohan. “Effect of Virgin Coconut Oil Enriched Diet on the Antioxidant Status and Paraoxonase 1 Activity in Ameliorating the Oxidative Stress in Rats- a Comparative Study.” Food & Function 4.9 (2013): 1402. Web. 18 July 2017.
- Nafar, F., J.p. Clarke, and K.m. Mearow. “Coconut Oil Protects Cortical Neurons from Amyloid Beta Toxicity by Enhancing Signaling of Cell Survival Pathways.” Neurochemistry International 105 (2017): 64-79. Web. 18 July 2017.