Eating a healthful diet can be confusing. What is healthy one day may be bad for you the next.
Take coconut oil for example. Over the last few years it’s been popping up everywhere.
Reader’s Digest published an article that said coconut oil could benefit patients with dementia, Dr. Oz said it would improve thyroid function.
I’ve seen coconut oil touted as a cure-all for almost everything. It was even supposed to prevent sunburn when taken internally.
Imagine my surprise when I saw it listed as one of the health trends we should dump in 2017. The latest guidelines from the American College of Cardiology recommend against tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oils.
Even the American Heart Association (AHA) is against using tropical oils due to their high saturated fat content. According to the AHA, coconut oil, a tropical oil, is not recommended because it’s likely to be artery clogging.
How can something that was purported to be so healthy turn out to be a bad thing? When people started consuming it in excess. While frying your vegetables in it from time to time may not cause a problem, using it in everything from your coffee to your cakes may be.
“It’s not a recommended oil by any of the guidelines that I know of. In general, it can contribute to cardiovascular disease risk because of its very high saturated fat content. The standard American diet most people already eat is already high-fat and full of a lot of processed meats and cheese, and now everyone’s adding coconut oil and we’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist and the chair of the American College of Cardiology’s nutrition and lifestyle working group.
People who already have cardiovascular risk factors should avoid it, he advised.
“Coconut oil is not a ‘superfood.’ Coconut meat by itself is probably not a bad thing to eat, but it’s when you start extracting the oil out of a plant — that’s when you get into trouble,” Freeman said.
Replacing bad fats (saturated and trans) with healthier fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) is better for your heart. One way you can do this is by choosing healthier non-tropical vegetable oils for cooking and preparing food. Use these oils instead of solid fats (including butter, shortening, lard and hard stick margarine) and tropical oils (including palm and coconut oil), which can have a lot of saturated fat.
So how can you be sure that you are eating healthfully with all the conflicting information circulating around? “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” said author and activist Micheal Pollan in his book, “In Defense of Food.” It is my hands down favorite piece of food advice because it’s simple.
Eat food, that means eat real food in the closest to natural form you can find. Avoid processed foods. Not too much. Ever hear of too much of a good thing?
I believe that happened to coconut oil. In small amounts the MTC’s in coconut oil could be part of a healthy diet, but too much, according to previously mentioned studies, can clog your arteries.
Another prime example of this is eggs, they are chock-full of nutrients and protein, but they also have 187mg of cholesterol per serving (the Recommended Dietary Allowance — RDA — is 300mg). Can eggs be part of a heart healthy diet? Sure, in moderation.
Let’s face it, most Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables and no one ever got heart disease from eating too many vegetables. (I looked, but couldn’t find a single case). We know the health benefits of eating more fiber rich, nutrient dense foods, but we don’t.
Maybe the health trend we should start in 2017 is spending more time in the produce isle and less time in the drive-thru lane.
Here’s an alphabetical list of common cooking oils that contain more of the “better-for-you” fats and less saturated fat according to the American Heart Association:
Sunflower Blends of any above
Some specialty oils, like avocado, grapeseed, rice bran and sesame, can be healthy choices, but may cost a bit more or be harder to find.
In general, choose oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and no partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats.
Sources: American Heart Association; The American College of Cardiology
About the author
Christine Bollier is a health and nutrition writer and lecturer who has spoken to groups all over the Rim Country, including making presentation at the Women’s Wellness Forum for several years.