At first glance, I see only marketing ingenuity of an expensive product. Anything that is a “cure all” or a “miracle food” has me seeing the infamous glaring red flag. There are claims that coconut oil promotes weight loss, dissolves kidney stones, protects against prostate cancer and now there are claims that it might even help suppress or cure Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, you can buy 32 oz. of coconut oil for $40.00. What a bargain!!!!????
I set out to investigate my hunch through clinical findings and common sense.
As long as I can remember, I have known coconut oil and palm oil as the “tropical oils”, which are saturated fats, and the two least healthy oils to consume. Clinical evidence shows that saturated fat in the diet directly correspond to the triglycerides in your blood, which directly corresponds to your LDL (bad cholesterol) in your blood. Heart disease is connected to LDL and saturated fats. Saturated fats contribute to clogging your arteries (arteriosclerosis) overtime. Connect that evidence with the fact that heart disease is the number one killer of adults in the United States.
Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat. More specifically, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil has more saturated fat than found in steak or bacon in equal portions. It is used for commercial frying and in candies and margarines, as well as in non-edible products such as soaps and cosmetics.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
The difference in the triglyceride make up of plant based coconut oil is softer than most animal fats because of the shorter carbon chains. The medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are the “fat burning” contributor the marketing gurus have honed in on to sell coconut oil. Most other oils have more long chain triglycerides.
Researcher, Marie-Pierre St-Onge of Columbia University explains that "MCTs are transported directly from the intestinal tract to the liver, where they're likely to be directly burned off as fuel and raise the metabolic rate slightly." That means less is available to be circulated throughout the body and deposited in fat tissues. This research has led to several studies on dieters using coconut oil.
Keep in mind that there are holes in every study. Somebody used a bazooka with these. Can coconut oil help you lose weight? There is no good evidence.
In the largest and longest of St-Onge's studies, she and her colleagues told 31 overweight or obese men and women to eat 1,500-to-1,800-calorie-a-day diets with 12 percent of their calories coming either from MCTs (1½ to 2 tablespoons a day of MCT oil) or from olive oil. (Olive oil, by the way, is made up of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are considered heart healthy fatty acids, unlike saturated fatty acids.) The fatty acids in olive oil may help lower your risk of heart disease by lowering total cholesterol and your LDL levels. I have never in my life read that about a saturated fat; neither animal nor plant based.
In her four month study, the people getting MCT oil lost about four more pounds than those getting olive oil. There's no way to tell whether the MCT users would have continued to lose more weight beyond four months. In addition, St-Onge said that "The effect of MCT oil on weight loss is modest."
Studies looking at heart disease in humans as related to coconut oil consumption are scarce. There is one study done in people in the last 17 years, Malaysian researchers found that when they fed young men and women 20 percent of their calories from coconut oil for five weeks, LDL ("bad") cholesterol was 8 percent higher and HDL ("good") cholesterol was 7 percent higher than when the participants were fed 20 percent of their calories from olive oil.
Regarding these findings, Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston said "We know that raising LDL levels increases the risk of heart disease," however, “we can't say that raising HDL with diet or drugs can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease." Sacks' bottom line: "Since polyunsaturated oils lower LDLs and coconut oil raises LDLs, we can't recommend that people replace olive, canola, or other liquid oils with coconut oil."
Consider that when certain populations are studied, their overall diet will contribute to the results of the study. If a population eats mostly plant foods and fish, like islanders would do, then the results are most likely to show healthy results than if the study were conducted in a less healthy diet population. Overall diet is a significant factor to any study and results!
There is no good evidence that coconut oil can help you lose weight or cure Alzheimer's disease. Keep in mind that the more direct correlation to preventing Alzheimer’s disease is a healthy diet rich in dark and colorful vegetables, whole grains, lean meats in moderation and exercise. Sound familiar? Diet and exercise reduces risk factors of just about every disease.
As my blog title suggests, I am going to support my initial suspicion that coconut oil, a saturated fat, is being marketed by the best. My recommendation is that you stick with unsaturated fats and oils such as olive oil and canola oil. They can lower LDL and have a positive effect on your health. Eating a diet rich in saturated fats, which usually come from animal-based foods, can increase your LDL cholesterol. As always, moderation is the key player. Unsaturated fats are the right choice. So enjoy your steak...OCCASIONALLY; and eat your veggies and salads with a little bit of olive oil!
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why is it so easy to start a bad habit and more difficult to stop one?” You are not alone, and actually, you shouldn’t be alone. Evidence shows that having a buddy to engage with and hold you accountable for health, nutrition and fitness habits and goals is helpful.
Over the holidays I had been contemplating that my one glass of wine almost every night was easily turning into two. One, while I was cooking dinner, and two when my children started driving me crazy (in a good way of course!); God love them. Because I am a rule follower, most of the time, I understand the moderate alcohol consumption rules according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. In addition to that rule, it is not recommended to begin drinking if you do not already for the potential health benefits. On the other side of that coin is the potential increased risk of breast cancer among other less than appealing potential things.
At a Christmas dinner party in December 2012, my friend, Jennifer, said she felt she was drinking way too much wine over the holidays and that in January she was going to dry out. I was thinking the same thing. However, I was already half way through January keeping my same habits until I spoke with another friend, Leah, that was “on the wagon” with Jen for the month of January. KABAM!!! The buddy system! That was exactly what I needed to hear!
My two friends decided together that they were not going to drink at all for the month of January and they hadn’t! I told Leah I wanted in on their game, which of course for me was way easier since there were only two weeks left in January. Less suffering! Yea!
In conversation, Leah said she would resume after January, drinking only on Fridays and Saturdays and her major boundary was to have one glass only. She noticed her trigger to pouring herself a glass of wine was when she started cooking dinner at night (Oh my gosh! Me too!), and she replaced that with a glass of water with lemon for the sake of ritual (I chose green tea). She reported that Jen was having equal success with no alcohol in January.
I improvised and made my own rules for my January two weeks of pain. I decided that I would not drink at all Sunday through Thursday and I could have one glass of wine on Friday and one on Saturday. I have had great success. The fact that I had been thinking about reducing my wine intake in combination with having two other friends doing what I wanted to accomplish, pushed me over the edge to achieve. There is something to the buddy system, and these two friends live in another city! I texted Leah everyday, “One day down”, “two days down”...and so on. For me it was the idea that I was not alone and it provided a cheering section.
As I continue my new good habit, I have allowed myself some normalcy and flexibility here. There have been occasions where I am invited to grab a drink after work. My goal was for my new normal to be not drinking during the week.
There are other benefits that come with this healthier habit:
What healthy habit do you want to work on? Consider the buddy system; grab a buddy, make it fun and achievable!
My passion and purpose is helping people reach their full potential and master their wellbeing.
Disclosure: Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before beginning any diet or exercise program and ask whether you are healthy enough to engage in a diet and exercise program. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider concerning your overall health and wellness, including your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. It is your choice to follow the suggestions, opinions and advice given by a Health Inspires wellness coach.