Which Oil Loves Your Heart More?

In the hospital where I work, I cover two floors that treat patients specifically for heart disease and its related comorbidities. Therefore, a fair percentage of my patients ask questions pertaining to diet and what they “should” and “should not” be eating. A big question that’s been asked many times lately is what the best type of oil is to use while cooking. More specifically, is coconut oil better than olive oil? It’s a valid question, considering coconut oil has been recently touted in the media as a superfood with many multi-faceted health benefits.

I personally use both coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil, but for different purposes. For instance, I like to use a teaspoon of coconut oil when sauteing vegetables, because I feel as though it can take to higher heat a little better. Meanwhile, I like to drizzle olive oil over proteins and vegetables when roasting them in the oven, and to dress up my salads and pastas.

The truth is, you can Google “coconut oil benefits and uses,” and a million pages from unreliable blogs and websites will pop up. But, when doing a brief search through scientific publications, I found that straightforward human studies comparing the health benefits of coconut oil consumption to olive oil consumption is limited. One review article I found reported that virgin coconut oil (less processed than refined coconut oil), does have some heart healthy benefits secondary to its medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) content. A little background: MCFAs are absorbed in the intestine faster than long or short-chain fatty acids, and are used up for energy more quickly in the liver, reducing fatty acid levels circulating in the blood. Virgin coconut oil also has antioxidant properties, which can lead to improved cardiovascular health and reduced inflammation. Studies examined in this article found that MCFA supplementation helped promote weight loss and healthy cholesterol levels. This all sounds great, but the authors were unable to make a conclusive statement that coconut oil was actually better than olive oil, because coconut oil is also rich in saturated fatty acids (which cause it to be solid at room temperature, like butter). Saturated fatty acids are more greatly associated with inflammation and high cholesterol, which can worsen your overall risk for cardiovascular disease. So clearly, there’s no conclusive evidence here that coconut oil consumption may actually be amazing for your heart health or if it deserves to be lauded as a superfood.

If you want a simple, straightforward, side-by-side comparison between coconut oil and olive oil, I found this infographic from the Cleveland Clinic that breaks down the main differences between olive oil and coconut oil. The conclusions are to stick with olive oil, because it is higher in monounsaturated fats (or MUFAs, which allow it to be liquid at room temperature as opposed to solid. I know, there are SO MANY KINDS of fats). MUFAs have been extensively studied and are known to decrease overall inflammation and cardiovascular disease (even more so than medium chain fatty acids). Other good sources of MUFAs include salmon, almonds, and avocados. You can check it out below, and find the full article here.

The Cleveland Clnic. http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/10/olive-oil-vs-coconut-oil-which-is-heart-healthier/

Bottom line: If a patient with heart disease were to ask me which oil they should use, I would recommend olive oil, and to use coconut oil sparingly due to the saturated fatty acid content. What else have you heard about coconut oil? Sound off in the comments!

Source: Babu AS, Veluswamy SK, Arena R, Guazzi M, Lavie CJ. Virgin Coconut Oil and Its Potential Cardiac Effects. Postgrad Med. 2014 Nov;126(7):76-83. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2014.11.2835.

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Coffee Coffee Coffee

So recently, I finished binge watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It brought me back to my days after middle school when I would come home, turn on ABC Family, and just watch for hours. I feel like rewatching it now has given me a much better appreciation of Lorelai and Rory, their fast-paced banter, their over-involved references to pop culture, and their strong mother-daughter bond. (Although *SPOILER ALERT,* I’ll admit I had to stop watching before Lorelai and Luke broke up and she went off to Europe and married Christopher. Ugh.).

Other than a newfound appreciation for the amazing writing (before the plot lines got a little too ridiculous, true fans you’ll know what I’m talking about), I also had a new appreciation for the Gilmore Girls’ love of coffee. I can now definitely relate as I start off almost every morning by brewing three cups of coffee in my mini Mr. Coffee coffeemaker. I feel like I’m sleepwalking without it, and I think it actually helps my productivity and focus at work. But watching Gilmore Girls in its (almost) entirety has made me question the risks and benefits of regular, coffee drinking. Are Lorelai and Rory, and myself for that matter, headed for a lifetime of heart problems and doom? The answers may actually surprise you.

The Good:

  • Coffee contains nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, niacin, choline, and vitamin E, that work as antioxidants and help your body carry out many energy-producing functions.
  • Consistent coffee intake increases insulin sensitivity, or reduces your risk for high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes.
  • Coffee helps protect against the development of Alzheimer’s Dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Consumption decreases the risks of colorectal cancer and liver cancer.
  • A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found a lower incidence of depression in those who drank at least four cups of coffee compared to those who do not drink any coffee.
  • The caffeine in coffee can provide fuel that can be used in sports that require long-term energy, such as in cycling or running races.

The Bad:

  • More than five cups/day can lead to an increased risk of a heart attack or coronary heart disease.
  • More than five cups/day can also lead to an increase of cardiac arrhythmias or atrial fibrillation, both of which can lead to strokes.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause increased blood pressure after consumption.
  • Unfiltered coffee, like espresso or boiled coffee, is associated with an increased consumption of oily compounds, which can increase your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, and further contribute to heart disease. These effects were not found in filtered coffee consumption.
  • Excessive coffee intake may interfere with calcium, iron, and zinc absorption.

Interesting Facts:

  • Some people have an allergy to caffeine that causes them to experience nervousness, irritability, GI distress, anxiety, or tremors.
  • Coffee intake of greater than 3 cups/day while pregnant may increase the risk of miscarriage. If you’re pregnant and still need your morning fix, talk to your doctor about what’s safe to consume.
  • If ethics are important to you, look for coffee that states it’s “fair trade” on the label (same with chocolate). You can find out more about that here.
  • The world’s largest producer of the coffee bean is Brazil.
  • The largest coffee chain in the world is Starbucks, with over 20,000 stores worldwide.

My Conclusions:

  • If you’re already hooked on coffee, there’s no need to stop drinking it now! It has shown to have plenty of health benefits when consumed in moderation (3-4 cups/day). However, if you find that you consistently drink greater than 5 cups/day (about 40 oz), you may be at an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. Also be mindful and try not to go overboard; avoid ordering coffee drinks with a lot of flavored syrups and whipped cream (like Frappucinos or Coolatas). These drinks contain a lot of calories from sugar and fat and therefore may cancel out all of the wonderful health benefits.

Hopefully Richard and Emily can refer the Gilmore Girls to a good cardiologist.

Don’t worry Rory, I’m only kidding.

And also you’re a fictional character.

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