Is Coconut Oil Healthy For Everyone?
I Thought Coconut Oil Was Healthy For Everyone—Until My Cholesterol Levels Skyrocketed
Coconut oil is one of the trendiest natural foods over the past 5-10 years. But it turns out that despite many health claims, for some people, myself included, coconut oil may prove deadly.
If coconut oil is in your daily diet, allow me to serve as a cautionary tale about falling prey to health trends.
For at least a few years, up until mid-2018, I had been consuming coconut oil on a daily basis. Not only did I cook with it and make my own homemade version of “Bulletproof Coffee” (which includes not only coconut oil but another high-saturated fatty ingredient: grass-fed butter), I also slathered it on my toast.
I loved the taste of coconut oil. I thought it was doing my body good. I had read numerous articles about its supposed health benefits, including its mitigating effects on cholesterol and inflammation.
Why I Quit Using Coconut Oil
In May, 2018, I had to quit coconut oil cold turkey. You see, I decided on a whim to get a full blood workup at my neighborhood health clinic. It had been years since I got even a standard health check-up. I hardly ever get sick and I exercise daily. But since I turned 45 that year, I decided to get a check-up.
When I received my blood work analysis a few days after my check-up, I was shocked, scared and in disbelief.
Check out my results:
Now granted, I didn’t have any recent results to compare the above scores to. But check out my triglycerides! Anything over 150 mg/dl is considered high. My score in May, 2018: almost 300! My total cholesterol was almost 300, my so-called “good” cholesterol (HDL-C) was low and my “bad” cholesterol (LDL-C) was high.
These scores suggest that I was dangerously on my way to developing atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that causes heart disease.
While reviewing my lab report, the nurse asked me if I had made any dietary changes that would explain my scores. Coconut oil was the only habitual change I had made over the years. The nurse told me that all it takes is one offending food to spike your cholesterol levels. So right then and there, I stopped consuming it.
Almost a year later, I had my cholesterol markers retested. Check out the improvements:
My triglycerides were slashed nearly in half. I’m not very concerned about my total cholesterol score. That’s because as I believe total cholesterol is similar to your overall body weight; it’s just a number that doesn’t reveal the total picture. Nonetheless, I was pleased to see my total cholesterol score went down. My HDL-C improved to the point of being in the normal range, while my LDL-C, though still technically high dropped more than 30 points.
Does Coconut Oil Cause Heart Disease?
Nutrition is one of the most frustrating disciplines. There is so much conflicting advice. One year, butter is bad for you, the next it’s a superfood. Like butter, coconut oil is high in saturated fat. After decades of being considered a dietary taboo, saturated fat in recent years has become somewhat exonerated. Research studies like this one in BMJ suggest that saturated fat is not to blame for heart disease; rather, atherosclerosis is caused by and may be prevented by certain lifestyle factors….
These lifestyle factors include chronic stress, alcohol consumption and excess carbohydrates in the diet.
Like most people, I have experienced chronic stress over the years. In 2016, I got laid off from a job with a 6-month old child to provide for. Bad timing: my wife’s maternity benefits had just run out. As for the booze, at the time, I did enjoy having a couple of glasses of red wine with dinner every night. I thought that was also a healthy routine, because of resveratrol (antioxidants) in grapes. But the veritas in vino, as it were, may be that drinking no alcohol is better for your health than moderate consumption.
Excess Sugar & Coconut Oil: Bad Combination For Heart Health
As for excess carbs, yes, I was guilty! While sipping on my merlot, I was also eating regular pasta most nights of the week for dinner. And I never had just one serving. After all, I thought I didn’t need Miracle Noodles. My weight and BMI were normal and I exercised regularly.
Maybe I can’t totally pin the blame on coconut oil. But ever since I received my first lab results, I quit coconut oil cold turkey.
Coconut Oil: Good For Some, Bad For Others
Most people often view nutrition through a myopic, black and white lens. This nutrient is good for you, this one is bad. Coconut oil reminds us that we are all genetically unique. For some people, coconut oil may pose no health risks, and may even offer some health benefits.
But for people like myself, who have genetic markers or familial predispositions to heart disease (heart disease runs in my family), the conventional medical advice of the past several decades to limit your intake of saturated fat is probably the best course of action.
In the not too distant future, it will be easier for people to get tested for genetic markers for heart disease. Maybe it will be as easy as downloading an app on your smartphone? Genetic testing for heart disease markers does currently exist. Ask your doctor about it. But standard blood work tests you get during a physical do not reveal the genetic markers (or lack thereof) that contribute to clogged arteries. Until then, use coconut oil with caution.
The End of Coconut Oil In the Superfood Spotlight?
For years, coconut oil enjoyed celebrity, A-list status as a superfood. As the Washington Post reports, retail sales of it peaked to nearly $230 million in 2015. However, a few years later, sales of coconut oil declined by 30 percent. Is it because people like myself realized that consuming coconut oil by the spoonful is great for cardiologists but not for individual heart health? It’s likely part of the reason. The American Health Association officially came out against it in 2017 because of the high saturated fat content.
The Biggest Health Benefit of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil remains one of the healthiest oils to cook with. The reason why is the same reason it’s dangerous for people like me: saturated fat. When exposed to high-heat, saturated fat remains chemically-stable. Unlike cheap, highly-refined vegetable and seed oil, coconut oil does not easily go rancid. But because of my genetic predisposition to heart disease, I’ll be using avocado oil instead for cooking.
But there’s one thing I still use coconut oil for every day: for skin health. I live in Southern California and spend nearly every day in the sun. Coconut oil contains natural ultraviolet protection (not much, SPF 4) and rehydrates dry, cracked skin.
If you use coconut oil regularly, monitor your cholesterol levels.