Many people in Kasma’s cooking classes have concerns about coconut milk — they’re afraid of saturated fat. As a country we are obsessed with fear of fats, particularly saturated fat.
Since at least the late 1970’s up until around 2000 I followed what is called a “Heart Healthy Diet.” You know the one. It’s what the USDA has been telling us to follow for years — plenty of carbs, limit your fat to 30% of calories, your saturated fat to 10% of calories (7% would be even better), avoid salt, replace whole milk with no-fat milk or soy milk, no limitation put on sugars or refined carbohydrates. This entire diet is based on what is called the “Lipid Hyopthesis” or, alternatively, the “Cholesterol-Heart Disease Theory.” Basically, it states that eating saturated fat and cholesterol will lead to elevated cholesterol in the blood stream, which in turn will lead to higher rates of heart disease. Oh, and diabetes, too.
Since 1987 I had been dealing with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). My health had gradually been improving since I met Kasma in 1992, as I begin to eat more of her diet. Ironically, Kasma was as healthy as could be. Here I was eating the “healthy diet,” particularly concerned with fat and salt intake, and I was really sick and her diet ignored the warnings on saturated fat – many of her favorite foods were (and are) quite high in fat (such as pork leg with the skin and fat on) and she ate as much salt (mostly in the form of fish sauce) as she wanted. In the early years, she was delighted: I left all the fatty bits to her.
It was around 2000 that I got interested in the whole question of fat and cholesterol. It happened because someone at a offsite cooking class absconded with a pamphlet Kasma had on coconut oil.
(Note: All links on this page open in a new window so that you can easily return to this page. Links were last checked in January 2011.)
Conventional wisdom says to avoid coconut like the plague; after all, it is VERY high in saturated fat. For decades we have been told to stay away from coconut. Yet something seemed wrong with this recommendation to me. At that point I had been to Thailand 8 times and seen a country that eats lots and lots of coconut (see my article How to Eat a Coconut a Day in Thailand) and I had seen very few fat people. Thailand has a much lower rate of heart disease than America, source of the “Heart Healthy” diet. The rate in Thailand has increased in recent years and, even with the increase, as of July 2010, the mortality rate “was 2.6 percent, compared to 4.9 percent in other countries.” (See this article in The Nation.) Since from time-to-time we would get questions of concern from students about the allegedly unhealthy coconut milk in Thai food, I decided to do some research and come up with a hand-out for Kasma (to replace the missing one) about coconut milk. You can read it our website: The Truth About Coconut Oil.
The book that launched me on countless hours of research was Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. In researching coconut oil, I discovered a little secret. Pretty much everything the medical profession and mainstream media tells us about the dangers of saturated fat and cholesterol is wrong.
Courtesy of Tom Naughton
Bear with me here. If you still think saturated fat and cholesterol is bad for you, the rest of this article will give you sources to find out the truth, to find out what unbiased researchers and nutrition writers have discovered from studying all of the evidence that is available on the topic. Rather than put the argument in my words, I refer you to people who have examined the original sources and can write far more authoritatively than I can. If you think saturated fat and cholesterol are dangerous and a health risk, I challenge you to take the time to watch just one of the videos I mention below or read one of the shorter articles. If those pique your interest, go further down the list to some of the books on the topic. Just look at some of the evidence. Please.
Kendrick Graphic, click to enlarge
Please take 1 minute and 18 seconds and look at the following video:
Now read this quote from the most complete book on the subject: Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) by Gary Taubes published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. After studying ALL of the evidence about diet and disease, Taubes says:
As I emerge from this research, though, certain conclusions seem inescapable to me, based on the existing knowledge: “1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.
You can read the rest of his conclusions, and I recommend that you do so, at Read an Excerpt: ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’. Every one of these conclusions is meticulously detailed in the body of the book. If you disagree with any of them, you owe it to yourself to get the book and read it: find out how he reached the conclusions.
Are you still leery of saturated fat and cholesterol? My challenge is to follow some of the links below, get an alternative view based on scientific thinking and consideration. If you’re still not convinced, check out the resources further down in “Longer Sources.”
Good Places to Start
Try the video below: it’s entertaining and has a ton of good information.
Then check out these three articles:
Information on Fats
Information on Cholesterol
We’ve been terrified for so long about cholesterol, it helps to know exactly what it does in the body: you might be surprised. In addition to “Cholesterol: Friend Or Foe?” by Natasha Campbell-McBride (see link above) I’ve also included two versions of an article by Uffe Ravnskov that looks at medical studies which suggest that high cholesterol can be beneficial.
- Cholesterol – Friend or Foe?, by Duane Graveline, M.D.
- The Benefits of High Cholesterol by Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., Ph.D.. (A laymen’s version of the article next article.)
- High cholesterol may protect against infections and atherosclerosis, by Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., Ph.D., from QJM (2003) 96 (12): 927-934, (A scientific version of the article above.)
- “The Dangers of Low Cholesterol”, by Barry Groves, Ph.D.
Good Authors to Read
Malcolm Kendrick, M.D. was one of the authors who absolutely convinced me that the Cholesterol Heart Disease Theory was wrong. If you can, read his book (see below) and here are numerous short articles.
Barry Grove, Ph.D. is a doctor of nutrition and has been challenging medical myths for years.
- Second Opinions – Excellent articles on medical topics of all kinds. Start with:
Duane Graveline, M.D., M.P.H., was an astronaut and is a trained physician who suffered transient global amnesia (TGA) while taking Lipitor. His website, Space Doc has links to many great articles, by himself and other. Try these:
Other Good Resources
- The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics. In particular, check out:
- News – Up-to-date and breaking news.
- Unpublished – It contains unpublished papers and letters by members, in particular letters that different medical journals deemed unworthy of publication.
- Links – More links to articles (many duplicates from this page).
- Statins. Did Your Doctor Tell You . . . ?, by Michael Babcock. Although I wrote this in 2003, it is still relevant today. In addition to information specific to statin drugs it has good general information and background with links to good sources.
Information on Coconut
Books for Extended Reading
All of these books are recommended. All of them successfully challenge the Cholesterol-Heart Disease Theory and include documentation and references to the studies often used to justify the theory.
- Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) by Gary Taubes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Perhaps the most complete book I’ve seen, meticulously researched by a respected science writer.
- Books by Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., Ph.D. – Ravnskov’s work is based on meticulous scientific research
- Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol,by Mary G. Enig., Ph.D., published by Bethesda Press in 2000. Enig has focused on fats for years and was one of the first scientists to point out the dangers of trans fats. I refer to this book over and over again.
- The Great Cholesterol Con: The Truth About What Really Causes Heart Disease and How to Avoid It, by Malcolm Kendrick, M.D., published by John Blake in 2008. Kendrick is a physician in England and writes about this serious topic in an irreverent style. He’s quite convincing.
- Books by Duane Graveline, M.D., M.P.H. – a physician an ex-astronaut who suffered total global amnesia while taking Lipitor® (one of the Statin drugs):
I’ve not seen the following but if it’s as interesting as his Big Fat Fiasco, it’s worth a view.
A Quick Word on Salt
The usual recommendation from doctors and the media is to limit our salt intake. You might be as surprised as I was to find out that this recommendation does not rest on very good evidence. Once again, do not take my word for it. Check out the following.
One thing to keep in mind is that most table salt and the salt in processed foods is not natural salt: it is the chemical sodium chloride. In its natural form salt contains all kinds of minerals and other elements. Sodium needs many of those minerals and elements to be utilized effectively by the body.
The information in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult a qualified and educated healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship.
Written by Michael Babcock, January 2011