Who told us coconut oil was healthy? It wasn’t reputable scientists

The headlines are screaming about coconut oil and the fact that science doesn’t consider it to be healthy. Oh No! Coconut Oil Might Not Be As Healthy As We Thought ,  and Coconut oil isn’t as good for you as you might think are just two examples out of dozens that say we’ve been mistaken. But we haven’t been mistaken. This one did get it right: Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy.This whole kerfuffle is due to a published report last week in the journal Circulation, Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association .

This advisory simply says that replacing saturated fat with healthier fat in the diet lowers cardiovascular disease risk as much as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. The accompanying extremely comprehensive review goes on to explain how the confusion arose due to much publicized but flawed research in 2014 that concluded that the amount of saturated fat in the diet had no bearing on the risk of heart disease.

It’s a study I’ve written about many times. The research looked at the risk of cardiovascular disease when subjects ate less saturated fat but it didn’t look at what people ate instead. So when they filled up on refined grains and sugar-laden foods instead of those containing saturated fat, the risk of having a heart attack or stroke didn’t drop.

But when research compared replacing saturated fat with healthy oils,such as extra virgin olive oil or canola oil, the odds of developing artery disease was certainly diminished. Yet somehow, that study wasn’t sexy and didn’t get the attention of the one which made people think they could feast on saturated-fat laden coconut oil, butter and fatty cheeses.

That’s not to say you have to banish these foods from your diet. Moderation, though, is still key now that this review settles the issues.

But here is some food for thought. The concept of we are what we eat applies to animals as well. When dairy cows graze out in the pasture on grass, the fat profile of the milk changes. Omega-3 counts rise and saturated fat counts drop. As well, the various micro-components also change, depending on what other greens or herbs they may be grazing on.

Years ago, when I was on a culinary exploration of the Mediterranean diet organized by the Boston-based food tank, Oldways, we had a goats’ cheese tasting where we were instructed to note the differences in the tastes of the cheeses depending on which side of the mountain the goats had grazed on. The cheeses were completely different in taste.

On another trip, I listened to renowned Israeli  goat cheese maker, Shai Seltzer, tell me he was awaiting results of scientific testing on some of his cheeses to assess their impact on lowering blood sugar readings. This was due to preliminary studies which showed that the herbs in Seltzer’s fields could yield cheeses with these properties.

My point here is that when we can’t always compare our diets here in North America to countries where foods are produced in a much different way.

The same goes for tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oils, which have traditionally been consumed by individuals who are essentially eating a vegetarian diet.

But back to the headlines. Before you jump on any bandwagon, heed the advice of respected professionals rather than faddish websites who want to sell you something.

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Categories: Nutrition News

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “Who told us coconut oil was healthy? It wasn’t reputable scientists”

  1. June 20, 2017 at 8:05 am #

    Hi Rosie and thanks for this. Have you read today’s review of last week’s AHA statement (replacing saturated fat with healthier fats = as effective as statins)? https://www.healthnewsreview.org/2017/06/saturated-fat-heart-disease/#.WUkXqVIbIhQ.twitter

    No wonder people are confused…


  2. June 20, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

    Thanks for your feedback, Carolyn! You’re right – no wonder people are confused! While I don’t agree with much of what was written, I do agree, though, that the claim that these oils are as good as statins is a stretch. There’s much more to a heart healthy diet than just including unsaturated fat.

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