Is coconut oil pure poison? I’m sure you’ve seen some articles or heard some discussions indicating that is so. Coconut oil, however, is a staple of my diet.
I am on The Wahls Protocol diet which prescribes copious amounts of good fats – like coconut oil. So, I thought I’d look into some of the information out there to try and determine the truth.
Please note, that I am not a nutritionist or scientist. What follows is mostly my opinion and what I have chosen to do based on information that I believe is trustworthy. If you’re considering changing your diet, please have your doctor refer you to a registered nutritionist or functional medicine doctor (FMD).
Coconut oil has notably different properties than other fats. Let’s briefly review what coconut oil is:
- 100% fat; 80-90% saturated fat
- major saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid (47%)
- contains a smaller amount of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs): caprylic acid (7%) and decanoic/capric acid (8%)
In her book The Wahls Protocol, Dr. Terry Wahls adds this:
“The medium-chain fats found in coconut oil and short chain fats found in chee can enter the bloodstream directly from the small bowel.”
This is important because according to Dr. Wahls and many other experts, having a measurable level ketones (the by-product of broken-down fatty acids) in the bloodstream can improve our brain function.
War On Saturated Fats
If you have a conversation with your doctor about heart-health and fats, you will probably be told to reduce/avoid saturated fats and that lowering your cholesterol is a good thing.
I’m not saying that is completely untrue but that there is more to the story.
But, before I get into that, let’s talk about how we got here in the first place. Why are we told saturated fats are bad? Here’s some info for you to digest:
- In the late 1950s, Ancel Keys began a Seven Country Study that concluded (through flawed reasoning) that established a correlation between the level of saturated fats and heart disease.
- Based on the above study, we were prescribed low-fat solutions and carbohydrate diets.
- Despite having adopted this supposedly “heart healthy”, anti-saturated fat stance, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women (in the US).
Maybe it’s the fact we’re on the internet now and have access to many more people than we did 20 or more years ago, but it seems every other person I talk to has some rare, chronic disease.
Cholesterol, Fats and Free Radicals
In The Wahls Protocol, Dr. Wahls says “we tell our study patient that diets high in coconut fat and low in carbohydrates may increase the total cholesterol and your HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or “good cholesterol”, but would also likely at the same time reduce the number of oxidized cholesterols that are the most damaging of all the cholesterol particles”.
Perhaps the real reason for some of the issues we’re seeing like heart disease is the oxidized cholesterol, specifically. Dr. Wahls goes on to say “the root cause of clogged arteries is the high level of inflammation in the bloodstream, the cholesterol that has been oxidized by the high sugar in the diet, and the high levels of inflammation and stress from poorly working mitochondria.”
Oxidation is the decomposition of molecules (in this case, we’re talking about cholesterol) through exposure to free radicals. Although not entirely conclusive, I did find this study that attempted to find the link between Oxidized LDL and build-up of plaque on the arteries (atherosclerosis).
This begs the question then, where do free radicals come from?
Nutritional biochemist Dr. Libby Weaver explains the entire process on The Paleo Way (Season 2, Episode 2, 7:32):
“The three main categories is saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and mono-unsaturated fat. And what that refers to is their structure.
The structure of a saturated fat has what’s called a carbon backbone. So the best way to visualize that is to imagine a row of the letter “C” and imagine a single line joining each letter “C” together (C-C-C-C-C-C). That’s the backbone of a saturated fat. That structure makes it incredibly stable. It’s why they’re so good to cook with because they’re not easily damaged.
With the polyunsaturated fats, that carbon backbone has some double bonds. Like an equal sign joining the carbons together (C-C=C-C=C-C). Wherever there are double bonds, it means that that point is more susceptible to damage. Heat, in particular, will do it.
So within that category, there are two different types of fat, Omega-3 and Omega-6. They are called essential fats, because the human body can’t make it of its own accord.
With the Omega-6 fats, that’s what has massively changed in our food supply. The majority of fats that have been added to processed foods are damaged Omega-6 fats. And if you could see the structure of the fat once the double bond has flipped open, it literally changes the shape of the fat, and that changes its behaviour when we consume them.
It also throws off what’s called a free radical, that can damage our tissues. Oxidative damage is one of the ways that we age from the inside out. So from grain-fed cattle, to the huge amounts of processed foods…Vegetable oils that have been heated to very, very high temperatures in that processing.
We need to move away from those and be using the saturated fats to cook with. The mono-unsaturated fats can also be fantastic for that as well.”
I agree that in this whole argument, we’ve lost sight of where our food is coming from and how it is being produced.
Hopefully, this post has given you some information which may be of help to you. It certainly isn’t comprehensive. Like I mentioned before, please talk about these issues with your doctor and/or a nutritionist.
Here are some additional resources for you to look at: