You probably read the recent headlines…
- “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” ~ USA Today
- “Nutrition experts warn coconut oil is on par with beef fat, butter” ~ Chicago Tribune
- “This popular health food is worse for you than pork lard” ~ Daily Star
- “Coconut Oil Isn’t As Healthy As We Thought, According To Depressing New Study” ~ Elite Daily
And wondering to yourself “What the heck is going on?”… “I thought coconut oil was healthy”…”Crap, coconut oil is another fake health fad?”
Well you are not alone, it seems the entire Internet freaked out at this “news” and for good reason.
As you can probably imagine, my email and phone has been blowing up about all this – even my Mom sent me a text wondering if it was true. I know it’s frustrating when there is so much conflicting health information being fired at us from all directions. How can we know what to believe? How can we know we’re getting accurate advice? Who should we listen to? How can we expect to get healthy?
It’s no secret that coconut oil is a regular part of my diet and I consider it one of the best oils to consume period. (I even partnered with the top organic coconut oil on the market as a result). Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s fine. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to all be very careful about health advice reported in the media – because some well-meaning reporters fall for basic industry tricks like this one that has just happened.
When it comes to health information, we must ALWAYS consider the source (and examine it well!)
Even if advice seems to come from a perfectly respectable organization on the surface (like the American Heart Association) – research who they are, who funds their work, and what types of health claims they’ve made in the past. This is something I do when reading health-related articles – and in today’s age of political and industry propaganda and manipulations, it is imperative that you take this step to be your own health advocate.
Who was behind the headlines?
The American Heart Association released a new Presidential Advisory recommending that everyone AVOID coconut oil, stating that it is high in saturated fat and raises “bad” cholesterol levels – which they believe leads to heart disease. In their press release, the lead author of the report recommends that we all stop using coconut oil and cook with “canola, or corn oil or soybean oil, or extra virgin olive oil.” And, he thinks it’s perfectly healthy to deep fry your food… ummm, what?!…
“There’s nothing wrong with deep frying as long as you deep fry in a nice unsaturated vegetable oil” ~ Frank M. Sacks, lead author of American Heart Association’s Presidential Advisory.
Can you trust the American Heart Association with health information?
The American Heart Association (AHA) is the same organization who told us for years to eat margarine (which was notoriously high in trans fat) calling it “more heart-healthy” than butter because it contains “no dietary cholesterol”. They started this recommendation back in the 1960’s and continued it for decades while the primary ingredient in margarine was partially hydrogenated oil full of trans fat. Well, we now know that the trans fat in partially hydrogenated oils are responsible for upwards of 20,000 heart attacks every year – which spurred the FDA to finally ban it from our food (effective in 2018). It’s rare for the FDA to ban anything! Boy, I’d say the AHA was way off on that recommendation, wouldn’t you?
“Of the half million Americans who die prematurely each year from heart disease—the leading cause of death in this country—at least 30,000 are killed by trans fats.” ~ Harvard epidemiologist Walter Willett
AHA certifies food loaded with sugar as heart healthy!
Cans of Bruce’s Yams In Syrup with 18 grams of added sugar per serving, Prego “Heart Smart” Sauces made with added sugar and canola oil, Starkist Ranch Tuna Creations with added sugar and MSG, and Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Honey Wheat Bread with added sugar, soybean oil, and two additives that contain trans fats (DATEM and monoglycerides) all get their official seal of approval. In the past, they’ve certified Fat-Free Chocolate Milk, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, and Trix cereal… yikes.
Processed deli meats full of sugar, salt and preservatives (like heavily processed Boar’s Head!) get a big thumbs up from them as well. All of these products and dozens more insanely processed foods with the “American Heart Association Heart Check” Seal of Approval have each paid thousands of dollars in fees (up to $7,500 + annual renewal fees per product) to use the certified seal.
Processed deli meats and sugar are associated with dramatically increasing the risk of heart disease…but the AHA doesn’t call those foods out?
“Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease” – Harvard School of Public Health, May 2010
“Over the course of the 15-year study on added sugar and heart disease, participants who took in 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar.” – Harvard Medical School, Feb. 2014
They’ve even partnered up with “Healthy Dining Finder” which directs you to eat at Denny’s, Sizzler, and Red Robin… do they really believe these restaurants serve healthy food?
Think of all the people who relied on the AHA’s endorsements and ate foods full of sugar, nitrates, and trans fat for years – and ended up sick as a result. How many people are still being misled? It. Is. Sickening.
AHA and Big Food are longtime best friends!
This is not where the AHA’s ties to industry end. Over the years, their sponsors have included a who’s who list of the worst Big Food brands out there, who fill their foods up with soybean oil, canola oil, processed meats, and sugar:
- General Mills
- Domino’s Pizza
The AHA is also raking in upwards of $15 million dollars per year from drug and healthcare companies – including over $3 million from Pfizer (the maker of the statin drug Lipitor that reduces cholesterol). Could this be why the AHA recommends that millions more Americans be prescribed statins, even healthy older people with no history of heart disease? The members of their research committee are raking in industry dollars too… receiving tens of thousands from drug companies to fund research, make trial appearances, and serve as consultants – which is a blatant conflict of interest.
The authors of this new AHA Presidential Advisory that condemns coconut oil are riddled with conflicts of interest as well…
One author, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, discloses significant funding from Ag Canada, Canola Oil Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Could this be why she recommends “lean beef” as “heart healthy” and canola oil as a way to cut belly fat? In the past, she also served on the advisory board at Unilever (maker of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Country Crock, Brummel & Brown, and Imperial Margarine).
Another author, Jennifer G. Robinson, disclosed research funding from numerous drug companies, many of whom make cholesterol pills… Amarin, Amgen, AstraZeneca (maker of the statin Crestor), Eli Lilly, Glaxo-Smith Kline, Merck, Pfizer, Regeneron/Sanofi, and Takeda.
Various conflict of interest disclosures reveal that Frank M. Sacks (lead author) has been paid by the industry to testify in court cases involving POM Wonderful, Hershey, Unilever, and Keebler. He also testified for or has received consulting fees from several drug companies including Abbott, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Merck, Roche, Sanofi and has received lecture fees from AstraZeneca. These previous associations were not disclosed as conflicts in the AHA’s report, but I consider this significant, don’t you?
The AHA’s ties to the industry shouldn’t be ignored.
It’s important to recognize squarely where the AHA’s loyalty lies. They are protecting industries from which they receive millions of dollars. When their primary sources of revenue come from Big Food and Pharmaceutical companies, you’ve got to question the veracity of their opinions on what constitutes healthy food.
Is saturated fat really the enemy?
The AHA’s recent statement on the saturated fat in coconut oil is NOTHING NEW coming from them. They have long held the position that processed vegetable oils (like canola, corn, soybean oils) are healthy and discredit any information to the contrary, while demonizing all saturated fats as detrimental to our health.
This belief has persisted thanks to intense influence and lobbying by the Institute for Shortening and Edible Oils (ISEO), an industry trade group that protects the interests of vegetable oil manufacturers like Cargill, Bunge, and ConAgra.
“As far back as 1968, the ISEO was mentioned in an internal memo written by the medical director of the American Heart Association: According to the memo, the ISEO objected to the AHA’s intention to include a warning about trans fats in its dietary guidelines; subsequently, the AHA took it out.” ~ Mother Jones, August 2012
Furthering this belief, in the 1960’s the sugar industry funded research that would hide the link between sugar consumption and heart disease, while promoting the idea that fat is the real culprit. The public didn’t find out the truth until internal sugar industry documents were released in 2016.
Many health experts believe saturated fats DO NOT cause heart disease and may even be GOOD for you.
There is well documented evidence that saturated fats do not increase your risk of heart disease. A recent meta-analysis in the British Journal of Medicine came to this conclusion. Another meta-analysis of 21 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has also come to this conclusion. Another meta-analysis published in 2017 found that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (like corn oil) is not likely to reduce risk of heart disease. I could go on and on and on and on.
A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that saturated fats may increase risk of heart disease, but NOT if they come from fish, dairy, or plants – such as coconuts! If you look at the countries that consume the most coconut oil, they’ve also got the some of the lowest rates of heart disease… what does that tell you?
“For many years we have been told that to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD), we must lower our intake of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and instead eat more carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Backed up by the National Cholesterol Education Program, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Heart Association, the medical profession has promoted this idea eagerly, although the number of contradictory scientific reports is almost endless. There is in fact much evidence that doing the opposite is more relevant… There is no evidence that a lower intake of SFA can prevent CVD and a high intake of PUFAs without specification may result in a high intake of omega-6, which is associated with many adverse health effects. Because there is much evidence that saturated fat may even be beneficial, we urge the American Heart Association…to consider the aforementioned evidence when updating their future guidelines”. ~ The Questionable Benefits of Exchanging Saturated Fat With Polyunsaturated Fat, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, April 2014
If the AHA truly believes saturated fat is so bad, why do they have “heart healthy” recipes for beef and pork on their website, given these are the biggest sources of saturated fat in the American diet? Could it be because the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Board, Tyson, Hormel, and Smithfield have all paid money to have their meats and recipes “heart check” certified? This sure raises my eyebrows.
Cholesterol has been demonized, but wrongly so.
We now know that cholesterol does some amazing things for your body and isn’t all bad as once believed – but it’s highly complex. Even if coconut oil raises cholesterol levels, this doesn’t tell you the whole story. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, what you want to watch out for is the type of cholesterol that is getting raised and particle size, along with high triglycerides:
“As a doctor, I tell patients that abnormal cholesterol can become a problem when it is the small dense LDL particles, accompanied by high triglycerides. In fact small LDL particles actually triple your risk of heart disease. This is caused by high-carb, low-fat diets and is improved when you add fat back to the diet, including saturated fat.” ~ Is Coconut Oil Bad for Your Cholesterol? Mark Hyman, M.D.
It’s also been shown that saturated fat in coconut oil increases “good” HDL cholesterol and increases the size of LDL particles (making them less likely to promote heart disease). On the other hand, low cholesterol can be harmful, linked to increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and morbid depression.
What you really should be avoiding are refined “vegetable oils” like corn, soybean, and canola oil…
These oils go through an insane amount of processing with chemical solvents, steamers, neutralizers, de-waxers, bleach and deodorizers before they end up in the bottle. Corn and soybean oil are very high in omega-6 fatty acids which are known to promote inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is a real killer, increasing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. These oils are also strongly linked to cancer and are typically derived from GMO crops contaminated with Roundup herbicide.
Despite all the evidence against it, the American Heart Association continues to tell people to eat these highly processed, inflammatory oils. Why is this?
It could be that the AHA is just stuck in the 50’s and can’t come to grips with all the new research out there. But I have another theory which seems more plausible – the AHA is protecting the profits of the drug industry (their sponsors) who rely on us being unhealthy enough to need a prescription and the food industry who prefers to use cheap oils in their food and doesn’t want to spend more money for healthy ingredients. It’s all about the bottom line.
It’s really no surprise that the AHA is trying to vilify coconut oil.
Now that the general public is learning the truth about saturated fats and sugar, the industry is freaking out. They needed to find a new angle. They need to win their way back into the public’s hearts… and what better way to do it than to scare us… “Hey, you know that coconut oil in your cabinet that you thought was healthy? Well, it’s going to give you a heart attack”.
It’s so outrageous for them to make this claim when you look at where we are today with our health.
For someone to die from a heart attack was virtually unheard of 100 years ago, it was extremely rare! In just a few short decades it became the leading cause of death in the ‘50’s and now heart disease remains as the #1 killer of Americans. The drugs pumped out by pharmaceutical companies and all those new “trans fat free” foods are doing nothing to stop this. What changed so dramatically during the last hundred years?
One of the most significant changes to our diets was the switch from natural fats to processed and refined vegetable oils. Americans moved away from eating real butter and fresh foods, while increasing consumption of sugary processed foods made with vegetable oils. Data shows that in the last several decades Americans cut the fat from their diets by 25% while increasing intake of carbohydrates by more than 30%. The majority of these carbohydrates aren’t healthy fruits and vegetables either – but mostly refined breads, crackers, cereals, pastas, and other low-fat processed foods packed with added sugar.
Where has cutting out the fat and gorging on refined grains and sugar gotten us? If you ask me, the health of our nation has tanked. It makes me incredibly sad, because I know most people are trying to eat right and do what their doctors and experts from organizations like the AHA tell them to do. No one wants to be overweight and sick, yet that is the reality for most Americans.
I personally love coconut oil and all of the health benefits it provides.
The tropical saturated fat in coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which have been shown to increase your metabolism and to REDUCE body fat (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4), while retaining muscle mass. It works to bring down chronic inflammation in the body and is an amazing source of energy. As a bonus, it’s also associated with increased antioxidant levels in the body that can slow aging!
I use a variety of cooking oils in my kitchen. Read my investigation with a list of which oils I personally like to use here. If you know anyone who is wondering if coconut oil is dangerous (or is trusting the American Heart Association for health information), please share this post with them and keep spreading the truth!
The debate continues…
Even two members of my Advisory Council, who are both physicians that I greatly respect, are on opposite sides of this issue and do not agree. Dr. Joel Kahn agrees with the American Heart Association’s conclusions (because he is generally against all oils) and Dr. Mark Hyman does not…
“My advice is to not get lost in the jungle of discussion over coconut and its oil. Without a doubt the AHA Advisors were responsible in highlighting the lack of data for a health benefit to adding coconut oil to the diet and the likely risks”. ~ Joel Kahn, M.D.
“First, there is not a single study showing that coconut oil causes heart disease. Not one. Second, the whole case against coconut oil is founded on a hypothesis that has been proven wrong”. ~ Mark Hyman, M.D.
I greatly appreciate this difference of opinion, and of course, I have my own.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with your coconut oil loving friends!