Dr Alfred Dawes | Is coconut oil poison?
Recently, there has been a renewed onslaught on coconut oil. One so-called expert has even labelled the oil "pure poison". This is not surprising as every time there is a renewed interest in coconut oil, the medical establishment begins to destroy it. This is just one example of how lobbyists and the food and drug industry control what is prescribed and consumed.
The controversy surrounding coconut oil stems from the fact that it is largely composed of a type of fat known as saturated fat. Saturated fat is commonly found in dairy products and animal fat. Consumption of saturated fat can raise the level of LDL cholesterol, commonly called the bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. So experts have been for years putting two and two together to say since saturated fats raise LDL levels, and high LDL levels lead to cardiovascular disease, therefore, saturated fats must cause heart disease. They ignore the fact that coconut oil, because of its unique composition, also raises the good cholesterol, HDL. But does consuming saturated fats really make you sick or lead to death?
The largest review and best evidence to date on saturated fat consumption looked at 15 studies with over 59,000 participants. The review found that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat led to a 17 per cent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and strokes), but no changes to the risk of dying. In other words, one may see a slightly lower risk of strokes and heart disease but they will not necessarily live longer. What this tells us is that it is better to eat polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fats. It doesn't mean that saturated fats are bad for you. In fact, there were no health benefits to replacing saturated fats with starchy foods or protein. None!
This goes against what we have been taught our whole lives. If consuming saturated fats in the form of red meat, butter and coconut oil is so bad, then if you cut back on consuming them you should see health benefits whether or not you replace them with protein, starch or polyunsaturated fats. There is no evidence to support this. It has all been one big fat lie. But who could have orchestrated such a scam of epic proportions that persists up to this day?
What we know for a fact is that the obesity epidemic started around the time the American Heart Association began telling people that they should eat less fat and more carbohydrates. This was based on faulty research spearheaded by a fish physiologist named Ancel Keys. Keys went to Italy and noted that the southern Italians were long lived. He looked at their Mediterranean diet low in saturated fat and rich in legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Instead of objectively looking at what the diet had, he focused on what items were missing - saturated fats.
Keys published a study known as The Seven Countries Study where he showed that countries with higher consumption of saturated fat had a higher incidence of heart disease. Immediately, everyone who considered themselves an expert jumped on the low-fat bandwagon and began to spread the gospel that eating fats, especially saturated fats, caused heart disease.
There was only one problem. Why did Keys choose those seven countries that had results that exactly fit his theory? Why was, for example, France, a country that consumes a large amount of saturated fat yet has one of the lowest rates of heart disease, left out of the study? If you include enough countries in the analysis, you would realise that the results are far different from the results of Keys' seven countries - that there is no correlation between a country's consumption of saturated fat and its incidence of heart disease.
Things only got worse. The sugar industry financed the research of many prominent scientists, all with the aim of downplaying the risks of sugar on heart disease and singling out dietary fats and cholesterol as the cause of the rising numbers of persons suffering from heart disease. It worked. With Harvard scientists pointing out fats as the cause of heart disease, consumers substituted fats with more sugar and refined carbohydrates. Manufacturers removed the fat from their products and added sugar to improve the taste. The food pyramid limited fats but had carbohydrates as the base of daily food consumption. As the experts knowingly or unknowingly spread the misinformation, the obesity and diabetes epidemics were born. And, up to this day, the war on fat continues despite the exposure of the conspiracy and the evidence that saturated fats are not as bad as previously thought.
But there is a thing called Karma. The sugar industry is now being singled out as the cause of the obesity epidemic, in the same way they conspired to blame fats. The sad thing with all of this back and forth is that the general population is left more confused, fatter and sicker, not knowing what to believe.
The truth is that excess calories make us fat. It is quite fine to consume saturated fat in the form of coconut oil, milk, eggs, butter and red meat as long as this is done in moderation. Limiting the amount of refined carbohydrates, especially sugar, decreases your chances of getting diabetes and, according to some studies, putting on weight and raising your risk of heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet is healthy because it is rich in polyunsaturated fats, not because it is low in saturated fats. This is the one conclusion we can reasonably draw.
As for coconut oil, it is not the oil that is poison. It may be what you are using it to fry.
- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic and weight-loss surgeon; fellow of the American College of Surgeons; senior medical officer of the Savanna-La-Mar Public General Hospital; and former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.