Let’s talk fat. A story came out this week on BBC News: “Coconut oil 'as unhealthy as beef fat and butter.'” Whether or not you’re concerned about the headline depends on whether you fear fat. I don’t and I’m going tell you why.
The conventional wisdom of the past 50 years said that fat, particularly saturated fat, was to blame for clogged arteries, heart attacks and stroke. But we’ve since learned that most of the research that led to the low-fat diet recommendations were funded by sugar and cereal companies.
Newer research has revealed that there is no evidence that saturated fat causes heart attacks or strokes. To the contrary, replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates - particularly refined carbohydrates - increases insulin resistance, obesity, triglycerides and small LDL particles, and reduces the good HDL cholesterol.
What’s that? It’s true. Dietary cholesterol has very little effect on total blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is vital to good health and it’s contained in every cell of your body. In fact it’s so important that your liver and intestines manufacture about 80% of the cholesterol in your body. And about 25% of your total cholesterol is found in your brain and promotes growth of new brain cells. Low-fat, high carbohydrate diets are now thought to be directly related to the epidemic of disorders like dementia, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Mayo Clinic researchers found that the highest levels of fat consumption was associated with an astounding 44% reduction in risk for developing dementia.
Okay, so what does this mean? There are four basic types of fat, three of which are good for you:
Trans fats are dangerous because they’re synthetic - they do not occur in nature - and your body has no idea how to process them. Trans fats are the true culprits in cardiovascular disease. Be cautious - even products with a “zero trans fat” label can actually contain trans fats, because manufacturers are not required to list trans fat if it falls below .5 grams per serving. That may seem inconsequential, but poison is poison, and when it’s present in nearly every processed food it adds up.
Vegetable oils, such as olive, canola and safflower oils are billed as good sources of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), but let’s dig into those claims a bit. Canola oil, long advertised as the “heart-smart” oil, is anything but. Canola oil was invented in Canada as an industrial oil (Canada + ola (Latin for oil) = canola). After being genetically modified to reduce the high levels of erucic acid linked to cardiac muscle damage, it was sold as food. Yummy. Although high in monounsaturated fats in its natural form, most canola oil is hydrogenated to prevent spoiling. The hydrogenation process, using high temperatures and chemicals, creates trans fats. This applies to all hydrogenated oils - whether canola, safflower, sunflower or olive. Only purchase oils that are extracted using cold-press methods. Avocados, olives, nuts and seeds are also healthy whole food sources of MUFAs.
Okay, sorry it took me so long to get back around to coconut oil. Coconut oil contains healthy medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs): Caprylic acid, Lauric acid and Capric acid. MCTs are different from long-chain fatty acids found in plant-based oils because they’re easily absorbed, metabolized in the liver and used for energy. Lauric acid is known to enhance HDL and decrease the total/HDL cholesterol ratio, resulting in a decrease in cardiovascular disease risk. Lauric, Caprylic and Capric acids are also known to be antimicrobial and antifungal. This is good news since many diseases are caused by the overgrowth of bad bacteria, funguses, viruses and parasites in the body. So, high in healthy fats, increases metabolic rate, helps prevent atherosclerosis and boosts the immune system. What’s not to love?
The key to using fats healthfully is to replace carbohydrates with the healthy fats. If you just add more fat to a carbohydrate-and-processed-food diet, you’re just going to get fat (because of the additional calories) and not any healthier. Eaten as part of a whole, real food diet, fats are nothing to fear.
Learn more about whole food nutrition: McCannNutrition.com
Cathy McCann is a functional nutritionist, coach, writer, speaker, and mom, who is passionate about guiding women through the journey of healing and rediscovering themselves in mid-life.