Coconut Oil Increases Cholesterol, Yet is Still Healthy for Your Heart
It is true. Coconut oil raises your total cholesterol. The paradox? It actually has a positive effect on cholesterol, and contains types of fats that may even help prevent heart disease. Unfortunately, many shun this natural plant-based saturated fat after decades of nutritional propaganda and confusing medical research.
Why Saturated Fat from Coconut Oil is Good for the Heart
Back in the day when Ancel Keys publicized his fat research study, conventional health practitioners started to preach a diet low in saturated fats. Mock saturated fats, like margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oils, were used as “healthy” substitutes for things like butter, shortening and lard. Americans, at least, were praised for using these so called healthy man-made fats. Coconut in all its glory was also banned from healthy food lists for its high saturated fatty acid profile. Little did researchers know that these fatty acids were actually helpful for a myriad of bodily functions.
But then, something went wrong. Researchers found that perhaps man wasn’t smarter than nature. These margarines and other unnatural substitutes were composed of predominately trans-fats, which are the most dangerous fats of all. They’re so dangerous, that many health care practitioners and other health experts (including me) find them even more jarring to bodily health than smoking a cigarette.
Coconut Oil Raises Total Cholesterol, But it’s Still Good for Your Heart
Many of my readers may not flinch when they read this title, as they they are pretty well versed in the nutritional and scientific literature. Yet, in the healthcare professions, we’re all taught that anything that raises cholesterol is bad. This theory is slowly dissipating, yet it still resides in many schools and universities (it is also taught to me at the university level in the dietetics program).
The total cholesterol number doesn’t take into account the type of cholesterol being raised, whether it is the “good” cholesterol or the “bad” cholesterol. Therefore, someone with a high cholesterol number might actually be in good health if their HDL is what is contributing to the high number, whereas their LDL and triglycerides are low.
Just between me and you: cholesterol really isn’t “good” or “bad”, because it is an essential component of cell membranes and helps in healing and repair, as well as aiding vitamin D synthesis. Even LDL is useful in some bodily functions. So why are we driven to bring down these levels to very low amounts? Drug companies.
Now there are some types of very small, dense proteins in cholesterol that can squeeze out of the lining of the arteries and oxidize, leading to heart disease. These small proteins are often formed through eating too many refined carbohydrates, as well as eating a diet based on high carbohydrates (thank you, USDA).
Now in the case of coconut oil, coconut oil, being a saturated fat, will raise total cholesterol levels. But, it does so because it raises the HDL, or the “good”, helpful particles in cholesterol to a very high level, while having very little significant changes in the “bad”, dense particles in the cholesterol. Studies have shown that pure coconut oil, although raises total cholesterol, has very little effect on LDL or VLDL (much more harmful) and triglycerides (fat in the blood), while increasing the heart healthy cholesterol practically every cell in our bodies need to function.
This means that pure, organic and unrefined coconut oil, a cholesterol-free oil full of saturated fat (about 66% saturated fat), can actually be beneficial for the heart, immune system (by aiding vitamin D synthesis), brain health and many other areas of our lives.
Coconut Oil, Weight Loss and Cholesterol Levels
Most research is clear on the fact that weight reduction (as well as increased activity associated with weight loss) has a positive effect on cholesterol levels by reducing harmful, small dense cholesterol proteins. When we lose weight and find balance in our weight, our cholesterol levels come into balance, as well.
Some research has shown that coconut oil can increase energy expenditure due the nature and structure of the saturated fats. The fatty acids in coconut oil are composed of medium and short chains, which the body can utilize very quickly for energy. Most long chained fatty acids that come from supposedly “healthy” oils like canola or sunflower seed oil are actually stored as fat much more readily to be used as a later energy source.
Lauric Acid: The Nourishing Nutrient That Everyone is Deficient In
You don’t hear a lot about the benefits of lauric acid in nutrition studies, especially in school where I am studying dietetics. Why is this? Probably because lauric acid is a saturated fatty acid, and most conventional dietetic schools frown on saturated fats.
Lauric acid is found in large amounts in human breast milk, and aids in the development of the brain and immune system of babies. Women lactate at pregnancy for a reason, and lauric acid is present in large amounts for a reason — to nourish the body and brain.
This essential fatty acid can also be utilized for people of all ages, yet it should obviously come from different sources. The food that is highest in lauric acid that is comparable to human milk is coconut oil.
A study from The Netherlands shows that a diet rich in the saturated fat lauric acid can actually reduce harmful cholesterol proteins and have a favorable effect on triglycerides. They do not teach this in conventional nutrition schools!
How Much Coconut Oil Per Day for Cholesterol Health?
The jury is still out on this, but there are some theories as to how much coconut oil our bodies can use daily. These recommendations will vary based on physical body size and activity level, as well as the other foods you’re eating.
Dr. Mary Enig, PhD, a nutritional biochemist, recommends 3 tbsp. of unrefined coconut oil per day to provide the body (and the brain) with the same amount of lauric acid that would be found in human breast milk. Lauric acid may also play a role in cholesterol and bringing it to healthy levels in the body by balancing out the large buoyant proteins and the small dense proteins in the blood.
If you decide to use three tablespoons of coconut oil per day, you may have to reduce the amount of other foods your consume that day, or increase your levels of physical activity. This really isn’t all that difficult when consuming coconut oil, as this tropical oil can actually help stave off hunger and boost your energy (as your body uses the fats in coconut oil readily compared to other fats).
Coconut oil pills should not be purchased, as you would need to take almost 49 capsule per day to equal the amount of three tablespoons! According to Tropical Traditions:“For one thing, the largest softgel one can make is 1000 mg (1 gram). As most people know, the recommended amount of coconut oil to eat each day by many researchers is about 3.5 tablespoons. 1 tablespoon is 14 grams. So to get the equivalent amount of coconut oil that most people are consuming in capsule form, one would need to take about 49 capsules a day. The companies peddling these coconut pills are recommending anywhere from 3 to 6 capsules a day, which is only a few drops of coconut oil. “
Pills filled with a little coconut oil is more or less a scam, and is certainly more expensive than coconut oil itself, in its complete form.
This is The Healthy Advocate.