The American Heart Association (AHA) just keeps getting it wrong. In an article in USA today in mid-June, the organization is quoted as saying that coconut oil is bad for you. Really? Coconut oil may be one of nature’s most perfect foods. But the AHA has a long history of mistaking saturated fats as dangerous foods while touting grains and vegetable oils as good substitutes. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is thanks to the AHA’s Low Fat Guidelines in the 1970’s that we took the fat out of milk and put sugar in its place. Ever since then, Americans have been getting fatter and fatter.
Think I am exaggerating? Consider these facts:
- US children, 30% of whom are currently obese, are projected to have shorter life expectancies than their parents. This is unheard of historically unless the country experienced a nuclear attack or the plague.
- The US has the distinction of being the Wealthiest/Unhealthiest country in the world. That’s right. Among the 16 wealthiest nations in the world, we are dead last for health.
- But for those of you who tend to be competitive, never fear because we are #1 for obesity, top of the list, fattest country in the world! We literally have every other country in the world beat when it comes to being fat.
Clearly the AHA’s recommendations are not working!
First the AHA told us to that all of the delicious nutrition that comes in whole fat milk was bad for us and now they are saying that coconut oil is bad for us! I smell a rat. They base this finding upon a report from the Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory, which reviewed existing data on saturated fat, showing coconut oil increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in seven out of seven controlled trials. “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil,” the American Heart Association said in their advisory.
There are several things wrong with this “finding” (and I use the term loosely.) First, just because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, doesn’t mean that the result is bad for us since not all LDL cholesterol is bad. Secondly, coconut oil has been shown to have incredible health benefits. Thirdly, it would appear that the AHA is funded by organizations with a special interest in promoting the lipid theory of heart disease, or a theory that blames saturated fats, when most of the cutting edge science has shown that saturated fats are not the problem.
Let’s start with whether or not LDL cholesterol is the problem. It isn’t clear from the article in USA Today which type of LDL cholesterol the AHA is talking about and this is important because there are different types of LDL. The researchers at the AHA seem to be saying that LDL cholesterol causes CVD, but the scientific data on the role of LDL has changed and much of the research today actually points in the opposite direction. In other words, not all LDL cholesterol is bad.
In the 1970s, when LDLs were first discovered, they were found to be higher in people with cardiovascular disease, so the assumption (a key word here, assumption) was that they were bad and lowering them became the focus for most practitioners. What wasn’t understood at that time was that there are two types of LDL: Pattern A and Pattern B. One is dangerous, the other is not dangerous and may even be beneficial. It depends upon the particle size of the cholesterol.
- Pattern A: The particles are large, light, and more or less buoyant, just floating through the blood. As such, they do not cause plaque to build up which is what clogs the arteries, so they are harmless. Guess what contributes to the big fluffy particles? Coconut oil and other healthy saturated fats.
- Pattern B: The particles are small to very small in size. The smaller the particle size the more likely it is to wedge itself under the epithelial cells that line the walls of our arteries and damage the surfaces. This is what stimulates plaque formation. This type of LDL is dangerous. Guess what contributes to the small particles? Hydrogenated vegetable fats.
Bottom line: LDL cholesterol gets a bad rap because it is correlated with CVD. But correlation is not causation.
The following is an excerpt from my soon to be released book:
Food Kills: Food Cures
Cholesterol travels in “containers” that are made up of protein, cholesterol, phospholipids and triglycerides that are referred to as lipoproteins. The lipoproteins range from largest to smallest in density compared with the surrounding water. Think of little suitcases and the smaller the suitcase the more tightly it is packed. The smallest suitcase, High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is the most densely packed and the largest suitcase, Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL), is the least densely packed. They are different sizes, and have different compositions, because they have different jobs, depending upon where they end up. (Chylomicrons are in a class by themselves and are mostly triglycerides.)
- Chylomicron is the biggest carrier. It is produced in the gut and directly provides the fuel from fats that the body needs to fuel its cells. It also delivers fats to the liver, where the fats are then sorted out and redistributed into lipoproteins. It mostly contains triglycerides.
- VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) carries fat, cholesterol, fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants to cells. So we depend upon it for the absorption of vitamins and antioxidants. Good stuff!
- IDL (intermediate density lipoprotein) which is a bit smaller than VLDL, carries something similar to VLDLs, just in smaller packages. More good stuff.
- LDL (low density lipoprotein) is what is left over after VLDL has delivered most of its healthy content to the cells. It is called “bad cholesterol“ because it is easy to attack. Using the suitcase analogy, it is like that old battered suitcase you have that no longer zips or stays closed. You have to tape it together and even then, it may fall apart at the most inopportune time.
While traveling, this LDL gets hit by microbes, free radicals, toxins, and glucose (or the pollutants and excessive sugar from our food and environment). It is in the most fragile container and as such, it is the most likely to be damaged, especially if there is a lot of glucose (sugar) floating around. Sugar causes glycation or “inflammation.” Inflammation is the reason for most of what ails us today in America.
- oxLDL (oxycholesterol) is LDL after it has been attacked and oxidized. So now the suitcase is a filthy mesh bag, leaking gunk that clogs our arteries. Turns out, this is the really dangerous form of cholesterol and the most likely cholesterol to cause vascular disease.
- HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the smallest suitcase with the highest density. This is the “good” cholesterol as it is very robust and reliable. It is like a Tumi (very expensive sturdy luggage) with James Bond technology built into it. HDL not only resists attack just like Bond would do, it actually saves cholesterol (the damsel in distress?) from turning into the damaged oxLDL. Finally, in a totally James Bond move, it destroys pathogens by infiltrating the pathogen and then from inside the cell of the pathogen, destroying it! It deserves the reputation for being the “good cholesterol”.
- HDL-A1 – is the form of HDL that brings good cholesterol to the liver so it can be further distributed. It is produced when the cells in the skin are exposed to the sun and produce cholesterol sulfate.
- B – HDL – is the form of cholesterol that goes specifically to the brain and again, requires sun exposure.
(Notice that the last two require sunshine in order to produce these incredibly beneficial forms of cholesterol? Stay tuned for a preview of my Sunshine Chapter.)
Contrary to what the AHA keeps saying, saturated fat is not the problem. Carbs are the problem, particularly hyper-hybridized grains and chemical versions of sugar, along with the hydrogenated fats in processed foods. These are the things clogging our arteries and causing inflammation. The AHA would have us believe that eating carbs and unsaturated vegetable fats is a good thing, when it is not. Low carb diets work, low fat diets do not.
Notice that in this study on the markers of metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, middle fat and type 2 diabetes) that on a low carb/high fat diet, glucose went down nearly 13%, insulin went down almost 50%, blood pressure went down nearly 20%, triglycerides went down more than 50% and HDL cholesterol went up almost 10%. High fat/low carb works.
The other problem with the “findings” of the AHA is the statement that coconut oil has “no known offsetting favorable effects”! Are you kidding? It may be one of the most perfect foods on the planet. It contains all of the amino acids, making coconut water the perfect hydrator when you are trying to restore electrolytes. In terms of its’ impact on weight management, coconut oil is metabolized by the liver and converts to energy instead of body fat. It has a high smoke point making it ideal for frying foods.
In the next article, we will explore the embarrassment of riches that we find in the coconut. In the article to follow and our conclusion for this series, we will look at why the AHA and it’s backers, Big Pharma and Big Food, might be promoting the lipid theory of heart disease and dissing coconut oil.
Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder (BED), as well as obesity.
Like me on Facebook
Contact Dr Norton by phone 513-205-6543 or by form
Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship. This information is not necessarily the position of Dr. J. Renae Norton or The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity.
©2017, Dr. J. Renae Norton. This information is intellectual property of Dr. J. Renae Norton. Reproduction and distribution for educational purposes is permissible. Please credit ‘© 2017, Dr. J. Renae Norton. http://www.eatingdisorderpro.com/