The American Heart Association (AHA) published a report last week recommending cutting down on coconut oil in diets as it is high in saturated fats and this raises ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. Cue sensationalist headlines from major media outlets claiming coconut oil is out. Not only does the AHA recommend cutting down on coconut oil but that eating inflammatory vegetable oils is OK. According to them, frying in vegetable oils is OK too. Bizarre.
If you use coconut oil, don’t let this news worry you though – there are 3 reasons to take this news with a pinch of salt.
LDL cholesterol isn’t necessarily bad
The AHA claims saturated fats should be avoided because they raise LDL. But there’s more to it than this – there are two types of LDL particles: dense and fluffy. The small, dense LDL particles are strongly associated with increased risk of heart disease whilst the larger fluffy LDL aren’t. Eating saturated fat increases the larger fluffy LDL1. Also important to consider is that eating saturated fats raises HDL and having a high HDL:LDL ratio is beneficial. The AHA don’t take into account the distinction between LDL particle size or ratio to HDL.
The AHA report was based on outdated and cherry picked research
The AHA report was based on only 4 studies from the 1970s and failed to include a mountain of recent research which failed to substantiate a link between saturated fat intake and heart disease (see here for summaries of the recent reviews).
Even the effectiveness of the four studies used is called into question. On the first study, the trial participant population was so small that even the AHA said ‘by contemporary standards, the trial needed more participants to reach a definitive conclusion’6. I could go on but Gary Taubes already does a great dissection of the study flaws if you want to read more7.
Conflicts of interest
The AHA has received sponsorship from Subway, Monsanto and Cheerios – companies that would benefit from people replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils and processed carbohydrates. They have financial associations with many pharmaceutical companies – companies that profit from selling the fix to cardiovascular disease rather than prevention2,3. And to top it off, food companies can buy the AHA ‘Heart Check’ seal of approval for their products – even if stuffed full of refined carbohydrates. The AHA has conveniently side-stepped reporting on the role of refined carbs in cardiovascular disease.
I could add more reasons to why you should take the AHA report with a grain of salt. If anything, news of this type highlight the need for the consumer to be vigilant and challenge what’s reported in the media.
Thanks for reading,