USA Today and other news agencies recently published stories regarding a release by the American Heart Association (AHA) that says that coconut oil contributes to cardiovascular disease because it’s a saturated fat. (1)
It rates the health food alongside butter and beef drippings. In fact, coconut oil is higher in saturated fats than not only regular butter, but also olive oil, peanut oil, and sunflower oil. The AHA release goes on to say that vegetable oils are preferable and better for your heart because they are mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
The AHA advisory panel’s lead author stated: “Saturated fat increases LDL–bad cholesterol–which is a major cause of artery-clogging plaque and cardiovascular disease.” (2)
How astonishingly simplistic and misleading!
The Skinny on Dietary Fats
Saturation refers to how many hydrogen atoms are in a fatty acid chain. “Saturated fat” means that there is a hydrogen atom for every carbon atom in the chain. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats don’t have as many hydrogen atoms. Most animal fats are saturated; plants contain both saturated and unsaturated fats.
The debate over healthy types and amounts of dietary fats has been ongoing for decades. While it is true, as the AHA report contends, that saturated fat raises low-density lipoproteins in the blood (LDL, “bad” cholesterol), the report neglects to mention that it also increases high-density lipoproteins (HDL). (3)
Cholesterol is absolutely essential to the structure of every cell in the body and the transportation and absorption of nutrients. The critical point to consider is the RATIO of LDL to HDL, not either in isolation. The ideal ratio of HDL to total cholesterol is 3.5:1, with total cholesterol below 200 (200 milligrams per deciliter). (4)
Cholesterol is produced in the body and is taken in from the food we eat. Abnormally high total blood cholesterol rates with a high LDL level over time can cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), heart disease, and stroke—there’s no question about that. A balanced diet that includes plenty of fiber, healthy fats in combination with physical activity and stress management will keep cholesterol at reasonable levels.