Coconutgate 2017

Have you seen the latest news? Coconut oil is bad for you. Wait. What? Are you confused? Imagine the look on my face when I heard this first from a client and then I saw it on the news. My client was terrified. Had everything I told her been a lie?! Dispelling myths a giant part of my job, but dispelling myths that come from the FDA, well, that's a little more challenging. I immediately shared this JP Sears video that put into words exactly what I was feeling, quite brilliantly I might ad. 

THEN, the brilliant Melissa Hartwig took it a step further. I aspire to be a awesome as people like this. 

The following is repost of a great email I received as a part of being a member of the Whole30 Community. 

The entire internet is freaking out over the recent USA Today article with (yet another) sensationalist, attention-grabbing headline: Coconut Oil Isn’t Healthy. It’s Never Been Healthy.And now you’re wondering, is that tablespoon of MCT oil in my coffee or the coconut oil I’m using to scramble my pastured, organic eggs ACTUALLY BAD FOR ME?

Calm down. Let’s take this article section by section.

First, consider the source—the American Heart Association. The same people who are STILL saying, (and I quote the lead author of the study), “There’s nothing wrong with deep frying, as long as you deep fry in… vegetable oil.”

Yeah, he said that. I couldn’t believe it either.

This is the same organization who certified Count Chocula cereal as “heart healthy,” still pushes margarine over real butter, and says all saturated fat will kill you dead, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Overwhelming.

Second, this report isn’t saying anything new. They just “reviewed existing data” on saturated fat and restated the American Heart Association’s position that saturated fat will give you heart disease. And coconut oil is really high in saturated fat. That makes coconut oil bad, hashtag logic.

The lead author, again: “…No idea why people think coconut oil is healthy. It's almost 100% fat.” That’s exactly what he said. Not “It’s really high in saturated fat…” He’s dissing it because it’s fat.

This is who we’ve been taking dietary advice from. ANYWAY.

This analysis was based on observations that saturated fat can increase LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), which continues to lead them to the conclusion: "Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.”

I’m not sure where to start with this.

As we explain in detail (starting on page 147) in It Starts With Food*, an increase in calculated LDL cholesterol doesn’t actually tell you much about your risk for heart disease. Context matters, and total cholesterol doesn’t give you the whole picture. Two people with the same cholesterol numbers can have very different risk factors, based on their levels of systemic inflammation, dietary habits, and lifestyle.

*You’re going to want to re-read two sections of my first book: the cholesterol discussion referenced here, and the section on saturated fat starting on page 167. This will give you a solid baseline on this topic.

Think of it like the scale. Say you overhear someone say they gained five pounds recently. Should you assume this is a bad thing, and that weight gain has made her less healthy? If you were the American Heart Association, you would… but what if she’s pregnant? What if she was underweight to begin with? What if she’s weight training and it’s five pounds of muscle? Without context, you can’t jump to any conclusions… and it’s the same with an increase in calculated LDL.

Context. Matters.

How healthy is your gut? How calm and balanced is your immune system? What does your HDL look like? What is your LDL particle size? What is your triglyceride number? In fact, the current science says the best predictor of heart disease isn’t your calculated LDL “bad cholesterol” number… it’s your  triglyceride to HDL-C ratio.

The takeaway: if eating lots of coconut oil raises your LDL, that isn’t automatically a bad thing.

Even if you didn’t believe this—even if you still thought an increase in calculated LDL was problematic all by itself—there’s this: definitively, it’s been shown that dietary intake of saturated fat is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Oh, and this study came out in 2010, and it’s a meta-study (like the mother of all studies), encompassing a review of nearly 350,000 subjects.

I’ll let that sink in. Dietary intake of saturated fat is not associated with heart disease or heart attacks. And we’ve known this since at least 2010.

So why is the American Heart Association still telling us to replace healthy forms of saturated fat (like unrefined coconut oil or pastured, organic butter) with highly processed, PUFA-rich, pro-inflammatory vegetable oils?

Fact is, they continue to churn out this same bad conclusion based on the same bad, tired data from the 1960’s. (P.S. And then in this article, they go on to confuse things by talking about weight loss and the percentage of medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil. Um, what? Saying, “Coconut oil isn’t as effective as 100% MCT oil for weight loss” might be true… but that’s NOT WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT… and that has nothing to do with their claims that saturated fat is universally bad.)

The Summary

Here’s my take: if you like it, continue eating coconut oil as part of your diverse, well-rounded, healthy Whole30 or food freedom diet. Don’t mainline it. Don’t make it your only form of added fat. Include a variety of fats, like stuff we all agree is heart-healthy (like extra-virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, and avocado oil).

But don’t be afraid of including healthy forms of saturated fat from butter or coconut oil as part of your anti-inflammatory diet and healthy lifestyle. Do we really have to keep repeating ourselves here?

If you want an authority on the subject (read: someone with letters after their name), I’ll finally point you to Dr. William Davis’ (Wheat Bellytake on the subject. If you want to read an opinion from another leading authority, here’s what Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calorieshas to say. Several functional medicine doctors also weigh in on this mindbodygreen piece. Here's the perspective of registered dietitian and nutritional therapy practitioner Diana Rodgers. And if you want another layman’s opinion (spoiler: they also agree with me!), here’s what Gizmodo wrote.

Thank you for placing your trust in me, and in the Whole30 program. I’ll always do my best to stay openly communicative, up-to-date on the research, and willing to critically review our recommendations to make sure they truly are in your best interest.

Best in health,
Melissa

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