I would like to welcome back my friend and fellow Integrative Health Coach Beth Romanski to the blog to discuss the topic that's been burning up the internet lately:
Is Coconut Oil Harmful to Your Health?
There has been a flurry of activity on the interwebs lately about a recent article released by the American Heart Association (AHA) that coconut oil, the previously touted miracle health food, contributes to heart disease by raising levels of LDL cholesterol the same as other saturated fat sources.
As an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, I usually tend not to get too worked up about such statements and sweeping claims from one article; having studied over 100 dietary theories with very differing dietary approaches from a raw food vegan diet to a Paleo, Primal or Western A. Price, I've become very accustomed to the fact that there are a multitude of differing opinions when it comes to diet and nutrition. Yes, this can be confusing and maddening at times and if you get too wrapped up in the dogma of any one diet, you're going to drive yourself crazy and down an endless rabbit hole of dietary perfectionism (which by the way, doesn’t even exist and shouldn’t be something we’re spending all our time chasing).
I get it - we all want to know “the” answer - the truth, the one diet that's going to solve all our problems and the world…and while we're at it, why not throw in the meaning of life? As an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, what I do differently is I say there isn't one diet that works for everyone and I help people find the truth within themselves. I believe health is a journey, not a destination, and as we continue to learn more and educate ourselves, we are equipped with the knowledge and power to discern what works best for us at anyone point in time.
Being healthy doesn't have to be hard, even though we tend to make it so.
While I personally have found I feel best following a Paleo template (actually more Pegan - a combination of Paleo and vegan - than anything), I know other people who thrive on a diet with properly prepared legumes and gluten free grains. If you feel good and don’t have any health concerns or health goals you’re not reaching, then that’s wonderful – keep doing what you’re doing! It's only when something ISN’T working and you're so set on your diet that you won't consider alternative options, or if you're eating a highly processed, nutrient-poor diet and have health complaints that I will be much less supportive of your approach.
With so many diets out there, and more coming out every day that it's hard to keep track, how do you know which is best for you? Well, you could try them all and be in an endless dieting cycle, or you can work with a Health Coach like me and we’ll create your “Personal Nutrition Blueprint” together. This is my specialty. During this process, not only do we need to focus on diet, but lifestyle and emotional components too, which are important factors usually not considered in any of these studies that are only intended to measure one variable and miss the big picture of complete health. (Hence the term “Integrative” Health Coach.)
I know…you read this blog post for me to tell you my take on whether coconut oil is going to kill you, and I'm getting to that – but I needed to preface my perspective in this whole issue and why I think these types of arguments about nutrients tend to occur.
With that being said, I personally do NOT look to the AHA (or any government entity) for health advice.
This goes back to what I was saying about how making sweeping and generalized statements and guidelines for the general population could be harming more people than helping them, when personalized nutrition is the way of the future. If I would have taken the ADA’s advice on limiting sodium at one point in my life, I would have literally died, because your body NEEDS the proper balance of sodium to function and stay alive. (It's a lot more challenging to find articles on this lesser known fact by the way.) Finally, if you take notice, the AHA also boasts their seal on a box of sugary Cocoa Puffs, which makes me overlook them as a reputable source.
Since I’m not a doctor, I'm not here to give you medical advice, but I can say that you can't put all your eggs in one basket and that you should always question what you hear and read, especially if it's in the internet (aka “Dr. Google”). While there is an appropriate time and place for conventional medicine, sometimes you even need to question what your doctor tells you if they are quick to prescribe a pill as your only solution which is only masking the problem and not solving the underlying root issue, as in the case with statin medication. (Remember not all doctors are equal in their knowledge of nutrition and even dietitians are limited with what the government allows them to do.)
I DO believe it's my role as a Health Coach to educate and empower my clients.
There are already many intelligent alternative wellness practitioners providing information about this and a multitude of other topics, which is why I didn't feel compelled to repeat what they've already explained thoroughly and why I’ve linked to them below for you to read and decide on your own. I hope you will take some time to review them with an open mind so you have another viewpoint.
These practitioners provide several worthwhile points about cholesterol – namely, which cholesterol levels are being considered in this analysis – we already knew that coconut oil could raise LDL cholesterol but it also raises LDL levels too (remember HDL cholesterol is beneficial to our body and we actually needs a certain amount of cholesterol to function optimally); that our bodies actually produce the majority of cholesterol in our blood so there is minimal proven correlation between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol; and there are confounding factors that can impact cholesterol levels (i.e. thyroid conditions, stress and inflammation from other inflammatory foods) that were not necessarily addressed by this study.
Read the articles here:
Additionally, as a professional academic and educator, I always question any research study with a discerning eye.
Who is conducting the study and why? Is the study well designed? What is the sample size being tested? What does an otherwise “healthy diet” mean? How much coconut oil were they consuming? What type of coconut oil were they consuming - refined or unrefined? (This question is important because one may be more oxidative than the other, which contributes to inflammation.) How was the study conducted to account for confounding variables (i.e. other diet, hereditary and lifestyle factors)?
Most of all, who is funding the study or report?
I was first exposed to the shocking influence of the food marketers, manufacturers and lobbyists in Marion Nestles’ book “Food Politics”; ever since reading that and other similar exposes, I've tuned out any government recommendations or health claims.
Another great example of how these government messages can be corrupt is the Nork York Times Article, “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat,” that brought to light that the sugar industry shifted the blame to fat as the cause of heart disease or years due to an exchange of money to the researchers. Crazy, right?
On this topic, one thing that I do feel contributes to heart disease and diabetes and a myriad of other health issues is a highly inflammatory diet.
This can consist of too much added sugar and refined carbohydrates that convert to sugar in the body. The AHA press release even states that “replacement of saturated fat with mostly refined carbohydrate and sugars is not associated with lower rates of CVD.” This is one reason why I’m so passionate about offering the MyHealthyTransitions 21-Day Sugar Detox Program as a Certified 21DSD Coach; which is a comprehensive action plan to achieve better health through whole foods while busting sugar cravings at the same time. (Plus, it literally saved my Dad’s life when he was diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes.)
Finally, to give Dr. Sacks the benefit of the doubt, I’d like to believe he was trying to say at the end of the article that eliminating any one food from one’s diet without adding in other nutritious foods is missing the point. This, in general terms, is one part of the article I can agree upon.
What those exact foods are and in what quantities will still vary on the individual (which is where at Certified Health Coach like myself can help). This is the theory of “Crowding Out” that I emphasize for all my clients. It's really about diversity in your diet and getting back to basics and just eating as many real, whole, nutrient-dense foods as possible without worrying about all the marketing hype. Sure, it's not as sexy or controversial, which is why my work as a Health Coach is usually undervalued. Most people want a quick fix - a miracle pill, diet or potion - and that's not something I can give them. If you want to spend your money on products that you think will magically solve all your problems, I realize you have that choice too.
What will I do after reading this announcement? I've read many other articles about the benefits of coconut oil and I will still choose that or high quality olive oil or ghee over inflammatory vegetable oils or fake foods (margarine), but honestly I don't ADD a lot of extracted or isolated fat into my diet – instead, I get a lot of healthy fat from whole food forms themselves (i.e. avocados, egg yolks, salmon, sardines, other fatty fish, dark meat poultry, quality meat on occasion, bone broth, unsweetened coconut flakes, canned coconut milk, raw coconut butter, raw nuts, seeds, and more).
Essentially, I try to eat a lot of vegetables and maintain an otherwise anti-inflammatory diet with a balance of protein and fat. I’m not perfect, but I try to do my best because I want to feel good enough to live a life I can enjoy to be able to make a positive impact in this world.
However, even in the context of an otherwise “healthy” diet, there can still be nuance that works optimally for one person compared to another, which is what I work to identify with my clients which is what makes working with an Integrative Health Coach unique.
Finally, I never said to anyone that we should be eating a certain amount of coconut oil each day to lose body fat or avoid heart disease, so I find very little value in this article being relevant news even though it’s caused a lot of controversy. (By the way, if you read the alternative viewpoints and haven’t been scared away from eating healthy fats, check out this blog post by Mark Sisson of The Primal Blueprint about his favorite sources of fats for some ideas.)
In conclusion, I hope I haven't confused you, but instead inspired you to start thinking about what you're doing now and how you want to think about your diet and health advice going forward. If you'd like to learn more about the results I can offer you as a Health Coach to help you overcome health concerns and to find food and body freedom, I invite you to reach out for a Health Consultation.
At the very least, I hope you'll share this article with your friends so we can begin to create some sense of balance and perspective to the dietary dogma that seems to be taking over the world. If you have comments, I’d love to hear them.
Thanks for reading everyone.
Disclaimer: The following material is intended for general informational purposes only, and is not to be taken as medical diagnosis, advice or treatment.
Beth is a Certified Health Coach as a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and a certified 21-Day Sugar Detox Coach. Beth also holds a Masters in Higher Education and a Bachelors in Hotel, Restaurant, Institutional Management. During her education at IIN, Beth has studied over 100 dietary theories to provide her clients with Personal Nutrition Blueprints that are designed to meet their unique needs and wellness goals. In her 21-Day Sugar Detox Program, Beth helps people break sugar cravings, balance their blood sugar and find food freedom. Beth takes an individualized approach to health coaching, with an educational and empowering style. Learn more about Beth and MyHealthyTransitions at www.myhealthytransitions.com. Connect with Beth on Instagram @myhealthytransitions and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/myhealthytransitions.