The Health Benefits of Coconut Oil (Part 1)
In the exclusive interview, DR. CONRADO DAYRIT, cardiologist and pharmacologist debunks long-held myths about fats, cholesterol and coconut oil in relation to having a healthy heart.
For the past decades, coconut oil – cooking or virgin coconut oil – has been the subject of controversy among scientists and medical professionals. There are claims that coconut oil contains cholesterol that it is very bad for the heart and it causes obesity.
In an exclusive interview for Woman Today, respected cardiologist and pharmacologist Dr. Conrado S. Dayrit debunks such long-held misinformation about coconut oil and its effects on the heart. Here are Dr. Dayrit’s answers to frequently asked questions about the heart, coconut oil and virgin coconut oil:
- What is the difference between coconut oil and virgin coconut oil?
A. Coconut oil has been used previously only for cooking, and it has been labeled as vegetable oil because our manufacturers have been afraid of the stigma against coconut oil. This cooking oil passes the copra process and has to be refined, bleached and deodorized in the refinery.
Virgin coconut oil does not pass the copra process. The fresh meat of the coconut is immediately processed and the oil separated.
Both coconut oil and virgin coconut oil relatively have similar compositions and health benefits although virgin coconut oil is easier to administer and is more medically acceptable.
- What exactly are fats and how are they utilized in the body?
A. Let’s put it this way. Fats, like carbohydrates and proteins, are food. We also need vitamins and minerals. Fats are used everywhere in the body. You can’t have a structure in the body without fats. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins are all integrated to form the walls of cells, which in turn form into complicated structures and organs in the body. We only think of fats in connection with obesity, when we eat too much fats and sweets. But if you remove fats from your diet, the body will still manufacture its own fats from carbohydrates and proteins that we eat.
- How would you differentiate between good and bad fats?
A. It’s a very wrong concept to distinguish between good and bad fats because there is no bad fats. There is no bad cholesterol either.
Remember that fat is not poison. It’s food. Being food, there are many different types of fats, like:
- Saturated fats: Short-chain, medium-chain, long-chain
- Unsaturated fats: Mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated
- Omega-6 and Omega 3
You should take some of each type of fat. In other words, a varied diet is the most healthful because, when you vary your diet, you don’t take too much of one fat or the other.
And the saturated fats, unlike the unsaturated fats, produce the feeling of satiety that makes you stop eating. Also, saturated fats are less prone to cause obesity. In fact, coconut oil is anti-obesity.
- It’s been said that fats cause heart disease. What is the real relationship between fats and heart disease?
A. Heart disease comes from inflammation resulting from diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and probably infection. Our genes play a very important role in two ways.
The first is in plaque formation. Plaque forms inside the blood vessel due to the wear and tear from pressure. It doesn’t have to be high blood pressure. Plaque grows in those areas with low stress, progressing from a fatty streak to a flat, fibrous plaque that does not interfere with blood circulation. Everyone has this plaque, including babies and young children. But in the presence of bad genes, the plaque becomes malignant, growing thicker so that it blocks the blood vessel. Smoking will aggravate this condition. However, if you have good genes, even if you smoke, the plaque will not become malignant.
The second deals with lipoproteins and cholesterol. There is only one type of cholesterol in the body, and it is manufactured by the liver cells from the foods that we eat. If you have good genes, you can eat 20 eggs a day for one month and your blood cholesterol level will hardly go up, perhaps 1 to 2 mg; 5 mg at the most. Absorption of cholesterol from food is actually very low even if some absorb a little more than others.
This is what happens next: Cholesterol is transported by lipoproteins, namely, LDL and HDL. It is LDL that “carries” cholesterol inside the blood vessel wall, especially in areas where plaque has formed, if the person’s genes are bad. Oxygen radicals attack LDL, making it toxic. This is then engulfed by cells called macrophages, but soon they are overloaded by LDL so that they die and cholesterol is released.
On the other hand, HDL “picks” up the cholesterol and brings it back to the liver. This process is good. They call it “good” cholesterol but it’s the HDL that’s doing it. As you can see, cholesterol is merely a “passenger” of these lipoproteins. So, as I mentioned earlier, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” cholesterol.
- What type of fat is virgin coconut oil?
A. Coconut oil is 92 percent saturated fat. In fact, it is the most saturated of all fats. When we say “saturated,” it means it can’t be oxidized or interact with the air, so it’s very stable. Even if you use coconut oil for frying six or seven times, it’s still good. You can’t do that with olive oil, corn oil, soybean oil or canola.
- It’s been said that coconut oil is bad because it is saturated. Is this true?
A. Yes, coconut oil is saturated, but it is not bad. Statements like this were made to protect the soybean oil and corn oil industry in the U.S. They did not want our coconut oil to enter the market there.
But all these misconceptions were debunked by a study that was conducted in the town of Framingham in Massachusetts. This study was started after World War 2 in 1948. The subjects were people 50 years old and above and the study simply followed them up over the past 30 or 40 years.
What did the study find out? People who ate the most fats, ate the most cholesterol, who have the highest blood cholesterol levels are the most active, healthiest people in Framingham.
Why is this so? Before the war, there was no soybean oil or corn oil in the U.S. It’s all coconut oil and saturated animal fats. After the war, soybean oil and corn oil took over the market and they worked against coconut oil, calling it names. They said coconut oil has cholesterol. It does not have cholesterol just like all the other vegetable oils.
- As a cardiologist, would you say that virgin coconut oil is good for the heart?
A. Yes, virgin coconut oil is very good for the heart. It provides many benefits to the cardiovascular system, including the following:
- Virgin coconut oil does not increase blood cholesterol levels.
- It does not promote the deposition of cholesterol in the fat depots of the body.
- It does not contribute to the development of atherosclerosis or heart disease.
- It is anti-inflammatory.
- It improves body metabolism.
- It controls high blood pressure and diabetes better.
- This counters the claims that virgin coconut oil is “artery-clogging fat.”
The real “artery-clogging fats” are partially hydrogenated soybean oil and corn oil, which have high levels of toxic transfatty acids. It certainly is no wonder that the U.S. has an epidemic of heart disease and obesity, because that is what they eat, as well as too much processed foods.
Unfortunately, because we are following the western lifestyle, we are now also at risk of developing heart disease. But this can be remedied by using coconut oil instead of soybean oil, corn oil or canola, which also has transfatty acids.