Heart Health

Coconut oil is not good for the heart

Published 6.18.2017
The American Heart Association is not backing down from its saturated fatty acids (SFA) position. It is sticking with its prescription to replace SFA with poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) because the overall evidence shows that doing so lowers the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Especially omega-6 oils, which is interesting given all of the presentations I've listened to over the years that rail against those PUFAs particularly.

The advisory seems to be an answer to the meta-analyses that have been emanating (mostly from low carb doctors) that show that SFA is not associated with CVD.

The evidence cited centered on four trials comparing high saturated fat intake against high intake of polyunsaturated fats with at least 2 years of sustained intervention, objective adherence measures, and validated cardiovascular event monitoring. Together, those trials showed a relative risk of 0.71 for coronary heart disease (95% CI 0.62-0.81).

Replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates and sugars doesn't have a benefit, other studies suggested.

The AHA is pointing out that the data are muddled because many people replace SFA with grains— and I suppose refined sugars would be included there too, but the two usually go hand in hand, unless you're a big sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) drinker. Cut back on refined grain consumption and you cut back on your sugar consumption as food as well.

The word carbohydrates in the advisory appears to mean grains. The word grains is not synonymous with the word carbohydrates, and I really wish that people would say grains if that’s what they mean. Vegetables, fruits and legumes are also carbohydrates, though I suppose legumes could also be considered proteins. I seriously doubt that replacing SFA calories with fruits, vegetables or legumes is a problem in any way. Replacing them with grains… that’s a different issue. Most of the grains are likely refined, because that’s the way that grains are typically consumed. However, if the word carbohydrate is intended to mean the phrase “refined grains” then that should be made plain as well.

The advisory also dinged the recent meta-analyses for not truly comparing apples and oranges in terms of duration and adherence. The lipid theory of heart disease originated in the 1950s and has been studied continuously since then. Since that time, much more has been learned about fiat (lipid) complicating the picture. In particular, the dangers of trans fatty acids (transfats) are now apparent. For a significant portion of time since the 1950s, saturated animal fats were replaced in foods by transfats because transfats, like SFA are solid at room temperature.

The bottom line is that a significant portion of the work looking to judge the effects of SFA vs other fats is tainted because the suspect SFAs were replaced wth a substance now known to be even more dangerous than SFA.

Don't go all coconutty

Coconut oil raises LDL more than safflower or olive oil in well controlled studies. In fact, coconut oil’s effects are similar to butter and beef fat. Our experiment with coconut oil ended because of the flavor it imparts to food. The only thing coconut oil is good for is popping popcorn. The resulting kernels taste more like the theater popcorn I remember from my youth.

Coconut has a fairly low smoke point too, so deep frying with it is difficult. In my experience, canola oil is a better bet for home frying.