Thursday, June 18, 2020

Retrospective #488: NPR on Coconut Oil

A while back I caught the last few sentences of this “Eating and Health” piece on NPR’s Morning Edition. In it, somebody (it was Alice Lichtenstein – more on her in a minute) said, “Why things like coconut oil somehow slipped under the radar is a little bit unclear. But it’s not consistent with any of the recommendations that have occurred [passive voice] over the past 30, 40, 50 years.” I made a note to listen to the full segment later.

My first naïve thought was that the “30, 40, 50 years” remark was a hedge. My hope was that the speaker was saying that the quality of evidence against saturated fat was poor, as more and better research has recently revealed. That the speaker was trying to scapegoat the long-held Federal Government’s recommendation to avoid saturated fat, including plant-based coconut oil, as unhealthy. Alas, my hopes were dashed.

It turns out that the clip I heard was not scripted by an NPR segment producer; it was actually made by Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., chief architect of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And she was now “doubling down” and using confirmation bias to assert the strength and “truth” of the Dietary Guideline’s perennial dictum
Since 1980 the Guidelines have recommended that we strive to avoid eating naturally occurring saturated fat, i.e., animal fat, in favor of “vegetable” (seed and grain) oils, all man-made, unnatural and highly processed polyunsaturated fats. The reason coconut oil “somehow slipped under the radar” is that it, like palm kernel oil, are unusual in that they are plant-based saturated fats. The Guidelines, if you hadn’t noticed, are generally biased towards “plant-based.” And that is why Lichtenstein would say, disingenuously, that “it is a little bit unclear.”

NPR’s April Fulton begins the piece, “Is coconut oil a healthy food? It certainly is promoted as one. Survey a broad group of Americans and 72 percent say, yes, coconut oil is healthy.” Fulton adds, “Fat is not the enemy. Fat helps us feel fuller longer and stay satiated. Eating some fat can actually help us snack less and potentially lose weight.” And I would add, although neither Alice Lichtenstein nor Alice Fulton mentioned it, the Dietary Guidelines dropped the recommended limit on dietary fat, of 30% of total calories, in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines!

However, six months earlier, in this USA Today story, Dr. Karin Michaels, PhD, professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said Coconut oil was “pure poison.” “I can only warn you urgently,” she said, “this is one of the worst foods you can eat.” Such advice from a Harvard epidemiologist only does Harvard and all dietary epidemiologists harm. The First Law of Holes is, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” But continue to dig they do.

Lichtenstein was more fully identified in the USA Today “pure poison” story as “Tufts professor of nutrition science and policy” and “vice chair of the 2015 federal government’s dietary guidelines advisory committee.” She recently told The New York Times ‘there’s virtually no data to support the [coconut oil] hype.’” None? Really?

Andreas Eenfeldt, MD, at, responded, “Study after study has shown that saturated fat isn’t bad for you. Unfortunately, outdated advice based on old and disproven theories is still being believed, even by some professors at Harvard. I recommend checking out the updated science on the topic…or just watch this short video, where some very clever medical doctors answer the question, is saturated fat bad?”

NPR’s Fulton concludes, So, it’s okay to use coconut oil; just don’t use it all the time. What you want to do is shift the ratio more towards unsaturated fat and away from saturated fat. And that means more olive, flax and canola oil and less coconut oil and bacon. It’s all about the balance.” NPR IS SO, SO WRONG! IT’S THE EXACT OPPOSITE!!!

The NPR piece then gets even worse. It advocates “unsaturated fats like corn oil, sunflower oil or olive oil” and “olive, flax and canola oil.” Curiously, there was no mention of SOYBEAN OIL. Soybean accounts for a whopping 87% of U. S. edible oil production. [2008]. Why do you suppose NPR didn’t even mention soybean oil? Aren’t Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill both NPR underwriters? It appears that there’s more work here for a good, objective investigative reporter.

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