Tuesday, March 9, 2010

BFQ Part 3

I’m on spring break this week (first one in 2 years!), which explains why I finally have time to breathe post. I spent this past weekend with my sister, who is working on her MFA in poetry at IU. My sister’s morning breakfast ritual now includes oatmeal, courtesy of my addiction {muahaha}.


While Bethany wrote poems and graded papers (she teaches a class at IU), I worked on growth charts and patient case studies after 2 weeks at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. On Saturday, we ran 9.6 miles {keeping up with my half marathon schedule}, and she definitely dominated the hilly route, while I cursed my shin splints and resolved hill train more often.


Franklin [the cat who thinks he’s a dog] attempted to help with the homework situation by jumping on my chair every 5 minutes.


On to part 3 of the BFQ [big fat question]:

In my last post, I presented the idea that saturated fat may not be the cause of heart disease. Naturally, the question that remains is…

What causes heart disease?

Researchers Sally Fallon and Mary Enig proposed that the excess consumption of vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats, excess consumption of refined carbohydrates, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and the disappearance of antimicrobial fats from the food supply (animal fats and tropical oils) are all contributors to heart disease. We also know that there are other risk factors like age, gender (males are at greater risk), heredity, tobacco use, hypertension, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diabetes…the list goes on and on…

My opinion: I think it’s easy to point fingers at a specific nutrient, but the reality is…a lot of different factors go into the development of heart disease. Saturated fat may be a contributor, but I don’t believe that it’s the only factor.

What’s the scoop on coconut oil?


Mary Enig and Sally Fallon are two researchers who have invested a lot of time in studying the effects of coconut oil. Much of the info on the opposite side to the saturated fat story in my last post is from their research. Everything I have read in my nutrition textbook says that coconut is highly atherogenic due to the fact that it contains ~90% saturated fat. However, many studies have not found evidence that dietary coconut oil promotes heart disease (read about them here). Coconut oil may actually help fight cardiovascular disease. Some viruses are thought to contribute to the formation of atheromas (causing arterial blockage), but the lauric acid found in coconut oil counteracts these viruses by forming the antimicrobial lipid monolaurin.

What is cholesterol and where is it found?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that aids in cell membrane structure and is used to make hormones and bile acids (for fat digestion and absorption of fat soluble vitamins). Dietary cholesterol comes only from animal sources.

New research suggests that blood cholesterol levels are not the best predictor of heart disease risk but that the size of the LDL cholesterol particles might be a better predictor. Smaller, dense particles are thought to contribute more to heart disease than large particles.

What are the current recommendations for dietary fat intake?

The ADA supports:

  • 20-35% of total calories from fat
  • <7% of total calories from saturated fat (2005 Dietary Guidelines < 10% from saturated)
  • up to 20% from monounsaturated fat
  • up to 10% from polyunsaturated fat

The new dietary guidelines will be coming out this fall, and we may see a small adjustment in some of these percentages. I think there is still a lot of research yet to be done before we see a drastic change in recommendations.


I hope you enjoyed these posts on fat! If you missed any of the BFQ (big fat question) series:

Upcoming topics…my take on the American Dietetic Association’s National Nutrition Month and another controversial subject…sodium.

Thanks for all your feedback and comments! I’m glad that you’re all open-minded about this issue, and I’m really interested to see how new developments and research will affect my dietary recommendations as a future dietitian.



  1. ahh thanks for all of this info girl! i really want to try coconut oil-ive heard so much about it!

  2. My dad won't eat coconut oil because of its high saturated fat content. There's been so much information out there. I'll send him this post.

  3. So glad you're back! And I'm so jealous of your spring break. I miss it :( Of course, I was always studying over spring break anyway!
    I am excited for the new dietary guidelines to come out, especially regarding the information on supplements and fat. I wonder if the saturated fat recommendation will be the same? I keep reading more and more about how saturated fat is not the enemy and does not cause heart disease...so I sometimes feel bad saying only 7% of your diet should be saturated fat. Oh well, it's just a recommendation, not exact science.

  4. I'm just catchin up on your posts and such great informations! I was really interested in it! but i can't wait to hear more about the sodium debate! i have a horrible time with salt so i'd love to learn more!

    have a fun spring break!!!

  5. I really love this series of posts Em, thank you for writing it. I think understanding WHAT fat you are putting in your body is so important. I've never understood people who will refuse avocado on the grounds that it's fatty then chow down on processed fat-free nonsense. hopefully you've enlightened some people. and I personally chow down on coconut oil and feel great!

  6. YAY! Emily, I squealed when I heard from you again. I'm glad you're back, I missed you, my dear! Please post more frequently now...but if life takes you down the busy path...no problem!

  7. I've realized that a large part of my ED can be attributed to my obsessions with reading various research articles on health, diet and exercise.. but I've learned something: God created foods that were meant for us to eat and enjoy-- not to harm us. So by sticking to a (generally) natural diet full of nutrients and varieties, we will all live the life we were meant to in the bodies we were created to be.

    sweet dreams <3

  8. Yay, glad you were able to get a breather and post as well as spent quality time with your sis! I can't tell you enough how much I love reading your posts...thank you so much for taking the time to do all the research and to share it online! ;D

    I can't wait for what you have to say about Na+!

  9. So good to find your blog via one of our mutual food bloggers. Can't remember who at this time... but glad I came by. Your bio reminds me of myself! Love that! Looking forward to adding you to my bookmarks and coming by regularly! I appreciate the mix/match of health, good eating and professional work. My sis just received her DPT and it's great having her around to shape me up and answer questions about the body when I freak out! Congrats to you and your sis...

  10. I am so happy you are posting again.Good luck with the training and your shins!

    I am really interested in the fat research. I am trying to increase my fat intake- totally thought of you when I picked up coconut milk and shredded coconut recently to make my muffins!

  11. I hope you're enjoying your break!! This weather is gorg, isn't it?! I'm glad you have spread your addicition because that goal looks like heaven!

    Thank you again for providing all of these facts. I think, like you said, a LOT of factors go into heart disease and that it's not just one cause. Unfortunately all of those factors usually are grouped together (i.e. unhealthy diets with a sedentary lifestyle seem to go hand in hand).

  12. Yes, the coconut thing is very controversial. I think much more research would need to be done in order to take this off the unhealthy list. Have fun on spring break. Relax a little...you deserve it.

  13. So many good facts about fats! I'm glad you pointed out that there is probably more than one cause for heart disease (i.e. don't vilify one part of our diet)!

    Woohoo, 9.6 miles for the win! Good job, triplet!

  14. As usual, I'm a huge fan of your well thought-out, practical, and up-to-date posts!! I've recently gotten myself a jar of coconut oil without putting much thought into it (i admit! It's blog peer pressure that i put on myself! FAIL!) but now I know that it was actually NOT a waste of money. :P Phew...Thank you Em!!!

    GOod for you for getting your sister into oats. DANG that is a gorgeous bowl!! I hope you're well my dear!! Stop by my blog if you might be interested in winning some chia seeds to put in your oats!! :)

  15. love this post! theres so much conflicting info on the saturated fat debate--and i think we just need to exercise moderation and not go too crazy with any one thing.

    ooh and i love that you got your sister aboard the oats bandwagon. ive gotten my non-foodie sister into it WHEN i make it for her haha but im hoping she'll forge an addiction soon...

  16. Very interesting...especially the take on coconut. I have recently heard about the benefits of coconut. That's great news, because I just love coconut...oil, in sweets, anything!

  17. I LOVE coconuts, coconut oil, and coconut milk. However, I recently had to stop eating it because my LDL was a little high considering my mostly raw, vegan diet. My doctor (who is very into nutrition) suggested it was because I regularly consumed coconut oil and milk. She is very nutrition oriented and is vegan and eats only unprocessed foods herself. I stopped eating my beloved coconut products for a month as an experiment and made no other changes to my diet- and my LDL went down. I was so sad to see that the coconut products appeared to be raising my LDL (no way to know for sure but it definitely looked that way). Coconut oil has taken the "health food" market by storm in the past few years but now I have to wonder how much is true versus very good marketing. I don't know the answer and don't mean to tell others not to eat it, I'm just telling my own story. I miss coconut oil so much, it was a great butter substitute for me because I am vegan and don't eat processed foods. Maybe it's OK in moderation and I was just eating too much? Who knows- but for now, my doctor wants me to stay away from it. :-(

  18. Anonymous: Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry that coconut products seemed to cause your LDL levels to increase. The opposite effect has actually been seen in many studies (http://www.coconut-info.com/mary_enig_cholesterol.htm). I know Enig did report that LDL/HDL/total CHOL rises in persons w/ very low CHOL levels when taking coconut oil, so as a vegan, that may be applicable to you. It just goes to show that everyone is unique. I really think that our bodies do respond differently and that not all nutrition information is applicable to everyone.

    What kind of coconut products were you consuming? And did you supplement with EFA when consuming these products? Also, how high was your LDL?

  19. Hi Emily, thanks for responding to my comment! I love your blog! My LDL was 95 - not considered super high by the American Heart Association, but my doctor thought it was a little high. I am a 36 year old female, in otherwise good health. I was eating whole young coconut about once a week and eating virgin coconut oil several times a week. I also had coconut milk in curries and soups a couple times a month. Maybe that was just too much! I did (and still do) take a DHA supplement and consume raw, unsalted nuts in moderation (about an ounce at a time 3 or 4 times a week). The coconut was probably the biggest source of fat in my diet. I also eat avocados regularly but my doctor said that's OK. I am jealous of those who can say that coconut products lowered their LDL- I wish that was me because I love the stuff! I do have to wonder how many of the studies showing the benefits of coconut oil are sponsored by the coconut industry - I have heard there is a controversy about that. But anyway, I sure hope it is healthy for others and they can enjoy it- wish I could too!


  20. Thanks for another great post Emily!
    I agree, I don't think we will see much change in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Thanks for the sat fat info, I can't wait to see how the media, research community, and ADA play out this issue. haha- it's funny that your cat thinks he's a dog! Have a great weekend, Rachel.

  21. great post! Thank you for the info on coconut oil and I'm also intrigued by anon situation as well. It's amazing how different nutrition can be for each person. I also think that the NMR lipoprofile test should be more mainstream testing for heart disease, since chol levels don't necessarily give the whole picture. Hope you have a nice break :)

  22. I just have to say the oatmeal looks just heavenly... mmm....

    And I agree with your view on heart disease about how you can't point fingers at one specific thing. In Michael Pollan's book, he discusses something similar and that it's the overall diet and how all the nutrients work together that is important...


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