My High HDL “Secret”

For reference, see the last post about my 133 (mg/dL) HDL.

Fat is King. More particularly: saturated fat. Now, how do you get that? Well, you can eat a lot of fatty beef, chicken skin, and so on, but only about 30-40% or so is saturated (15% saturated from olive oil). Or, you can get it very efficiently by eating all that, but by also dipping, slathering and generally enjoying the hell out of your life with sauces. I'm an absolute fiend for sauces. Even, now, with grilled meats.

Gotta have a sauce. Mine are all home made, and they are almost all based on: coconut milk. It's more efficient in saturated fat delivery — far more so — than even heavy cream. Let's take a look; the average can of full-fat coconut milk being 14 ounces. Here's nutfacts for 8 ounces, a little more than half, which is an average amount I'd use to thicken or base a sauce for 2-4 people (unless it's a Thai curry, in which case I might use two full cans, four times the amount below — so go ahead and have your heart attack now):

Picture 5

Holy shit, Batman! 88% of the damn thing is fat, and of those 57 grams in a cup, 51 grams, or 90%, is "ARTERY-CLOGGING SATURATED FAT!!!" Yep, God is trying to kill you, seeing as how coconut is a staple food for a number of (heart healthy) populations.

Modern ignorance (and moronity).

Here's a characteristic dish from a couple of mights ago which I'll call Indian / Thai / Polish.

Indian thai polish

In all my time in Asia, it never escaped my attention — even in the 80s — that Thais generally have wonderful body composition and Indians generally have lousy body composition. Well, they both eat lots of hot curries. The difference? Indian curries are water based. Thai? Coconut milk based, not only making them way easier to prepare, as they require very little reduction for a nice thick sauce, but wonderfully creamy on the palette (though HOT!).

On the other hand, I generally like the complexity and variety of Indian curries over Thai curries. The solution? Use coconut milk in your Indian curries, and use whatever the hell meat you want. (The coconut milk) Doesn't change the flavor a lick, so far as I can tell, though I'm sure some would disagree. Fine. I'm fine and know what I'm doing. In fact: it's a wonderful discovery.

The other part is that I don't do nan, the Indian bread (amongst many others you can have) that goes along with most curries, in addition to the rice. I don't think Thais do that, at least not that I've seen. Don't get me wrong: love nan; I can eat a whole lot (prior to the nuclear heartburn I used to get every time — now none — regardless of how spicy).

I do often cook up a bit of Basmati or Jasmine rice. Two to three heaping tablespoons will do it. Eat it with a tablespoon (as the Thais do). This introduces sauce and a spot of rice (if you're adding a starch) to each bite.

I do this a lot, and more and more. By the way, that's an Indian lamb curry paste (they have a dozen different curries for everything) with some water (it called for 2 cups, but that was to simmer and braise the lamb — the polish is already cooked). To that I added probably half a can of coconut milk and a good teaspoon of cayenne to boost the heat several notches. There's uncured Polish and an Onion.

Save your leftovers and toss a couple of eggs on them in the morning. Seriously.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Anna on March 18, 2009 at 20:30

    I'm with you on the added fat. I add a pat of butter to steaks, too. And I love rich flavorful sauces.

    Have you made coconut milk at home yet? It's pretty easy with dried or freshly grated coconut (lots of instruction variations online). I'm trying to reduce my use of canned coconut milk. My son gave me a rotary coconut grater for Christmas; it works great! Under $20 at an Indian market. There are a number of You Tube videos with demonstrations of grating coconut with various coconut graters options, though the food processor will work, too.

    Soak grated coconut with warm or hot water, squeeze, and strain.

    I slowly dried the leftover coconut meat in a flat pan in the oven (set at 150°F, door cracked open) so as to remove the moisture without toasting. Was great for baking. 1 medium coconut ($1.49 on average) made equivalent to about 1 can full fat coconut milk, plus a second soaking yielded a "lite" coconut milk, as well as about a bag's worth of unsweetened dried finely grated coconut – a pretty good value, considering that coconut milk cans cost anywhere from $1-$3 per can.

    I like to culture coconut milk overnight or all day with a tablespoon or two of plain yogurt in an Easiyo yogurt maker. Very nice as a slightly tart thick beverage or as a smoothie component.

  2. SimpleMan on March 18, 2009 at 22:34


    Got any good curry sauce recipes? I tried looking for some good packaged curry pastes like Masaman but they all had soybean oil in them or some other ingredient I was apposed to.


  3. Ann on March 18, 2009 at 23:22

    Oooh, I didn't know I could make my own coconut milk!! It is really hard to find it without all the additives, colorings and corn starch. Thanks.

  4. SimpleMan on March 19, 2009 at 01:22

    Another option for Coconut Milk is Tropical Traditions Coconut Cream Concentrate. All you due is add some warm water and you've got pure coconut milk or coconut cream.

    Also, Tropical Traditions sells Coconut Flour. I've used this several times with chicken breasts and it's a pretty good sub for flour.

  5. SimpleMan on March 19, 2009 at 01:22
  6. Richard Nikoley on March 18, 2009 at 21:53

    Great recos, Anna. Hard to pass up the convenience of the canned, but you point to other advantages too.

    Well, I'm thoroughly into making my own beef and other stocks, so this may not be far off.

    Richard Nikoley

  7. Joe Matasic on March 19, 2009 at 05:25

    Made a green chicken curry last week for the first time. I loved it. Simmered a can a coconut milk, a tablespoon dark brown sugar (1/2 what recipe called for), 2 tbsp fish sauce, tbsp green curry paste and about 1/4 cup fresh thinly sliced basil for 5 minutes. Cut up two lbs of boneless skinless chicken thighs and simmered them 15 or so more. I think it was basically the recipe on the bottle, but with chicken instead of veggies. Now I'm going to play with curries more and using the coconut milk for sauces.

    Thanks Richard.

  8. meese on March 19, 2009 at 12:26

    Funny, when I was reading this I had just finished my lunch of coconut flour bread and organic sour cream (I was trying to get some vitamin K!). And last night I had a curry with coconut. You can also buy coconut butter (not oil) or spread (ingredients: coconut).

  9. Dane Miller on March 19, 2009 at 05:35

    Holy cow…this looks fantastic and tasty. Coco oil/milk in everything. Keep up the good tasty work. Best is adding butter/coco oil to hamburgers.

  10. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later on March 19, 2009 at 14:48

    Richard/Everyone – you should also try 'creamed coconut'. This is a solid block of what seems to be dehydrated coconut milk. We add it to homemade curries. It can be handy if you already have a lot of sauce from other ingredients like tomatoes and wine, and want to make it creamy without adding additional liquid. You can also eat it straight – very sweet and dangerously more-ish! You can buy it from West Indian market stalls in the UK – not sure about the US but I am sure it will be available somewhere.

  11. Jeff on March 19, 2009 at 08:28

    Awesome. Is it possible that the HDL improvements while LDL stayed low was the saturated fat without cholesterol? The nice thing about the coconut oil is that it is high in sat fat with no cholesterol! I wonder if you hit on the magic formula for better cholesterol. Butter and cream come with cholesterol too, which may change the results. Very interesting.

  12. a on March 19, 2009 at 11:22

    What sort of coconut milk do you use? Goya? Some of the brands seem to have sugars and additives. The canned milk looks funny, much different than oil. I was worried it was hydrogenated.

  13. Jessica on March 19, 2009 at 07:20

    I have an additional use for coconut milk: Add it to Coffee!

    I've been trying to get heavy cream out of my diet, because its nearly impossible to find it raw here, and because I recently found out what mono and diglycerides are. (They are manufactured derivatives of oils and oil production, often from soybean or canola, some of which is hydrogenated. They are used as emulsifiers in many processed foods and dairy. GROSS!)

    I've been using coconut milk in my coffee all week, and it's quite satisfying. I find that the coconut flavor actually enhances and compliments the nutty flavors in the coffee. It may not be for everyone, but I recommend it as a better alternative to dead milk and emulsifiers!

  14. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 08:57

    I find them various places, either canned or packaged as pastes. I haven't seen soibean oil, but some have sunflower oil, and in pretty small quantities when spread over the 8 or so servings. The canned coconut milk I use has only coconut, water, and guar gum (in small quantities too).

  15. Sam on March 19, 2009 at 16:17

    Great lipids, Richard.

    But I gotta stand up for my heavy cream. Entering 1 cup into Fitday (based on the USDA Nutrient Database, I believe), heavy cream is better than your coconut milk figures.

    1 cup is 94% fat of which a luscious 54.8 grams is saturated.

    I recommend Organic Valley or better – avoid the crap in the supermarkets that invariably add skim milk (!) and other garbage.

  16. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 16:54

    Well, hey. It's not like I'm gonna dis heavy cream! 🙂

  17. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 16:56

    I must look into that. In fact, I've been getting my coconut milk at the supermarkets, and the only nefarious ingredient (other than coconut meat and water) is guar gum (the smallest of the three), which I believe is a legume?

    So, I'm going to have to find all the Asian markets in my area and check out their offerings.

  18. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 16:59

    I get "Thai Kitchen," which is unsweetened and the first press.

    Ingredients: coconut milk (coconut meat & water), Guar Gum. There's 28g carb in a whole 14 oz can, and most preparations I'm using 1/2 to a whole can, and that's for 6-10 servings, depending.

  19. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 17:02

    Don't know, Jeff. But, what I do know is that I love saucy eating, whether it's curries, stews, chilis, and so on. It's such an easy and pleasant way to get more fat, and, it mostly cures my munching on nuts, which I have wanted to reduce in my diet.

  20. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 17:04

    I drink mine black, except on rare occasion when I take evening coffee and like a spot of cream. However, my wife must have cream and this may be the exact ticket! Thanks for the tip, Jessica.

  21. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 17:06

    Oh, I can already tell that a bit of taco seasoning and coconut milk mixed in hamburger is gonna be good.

    BTW: the other night I made a sauce for chicken, from chicken stock. At the end, I put in a few squares of dark chocolate (70%). Amazing. You must try.

  22. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 17:09

    I usually don't puit fish sauce in my Thai curries. For some reason, I taste it too much and don't like it.

    The curries are so powerful in flavor that, 1) you need no salt for those concerned about that, and 2) you can pretty much do what you want in terms of meat, fish veggies, though the poultry and fish seem to go better with the red & green curries and the beef, lamb, pork, etc., go better with the red and massaman (pork could probably be a good crossover).

  23. Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2009 at 18:28

    Ann, The Thai Kotchens stuff I get from the market is c-milk (coconut meat & water) and a bit of guar gum.

    Richard Nikoley

  24. a on March 20, 2009 at 09:37

    Thanks. Good luck with the heart. This blog is great. I'm using your methods but I'm in the minority. I'm trying to gain weight. (136lb to 150lb, 5'10). Will let you know how it goes in case anyone else is curious.

  25. Rolando Alvares on March 20, 2009 at 02:57

    Hi Richard,

    I've been following your blog (and the ones that you link to) for a while now, and it's been a terrific learning experience.

    Anyway, what I wanted to say was that if you like Indian food and coconut as well, you definitely should look at some Mangalorean recipes, if you haven't already. The people in Mangalore use (or at least used to use) coconut and coconut oil for virtually all their cooking, particularly the curries.

    And the food is delicious. Well, yes, I'm a Mangalorean myself, but really, it is!

  26. Richard Nikoley on March 20, 2009 at 07:57

    I will definitely look into it. Thanks, Rolando.

  27. sarah on March 20, 2009 at 15:34

    any links to sauce recipes would be helpful to us sauce-making nubes! ;-D

  28. g on March 20, 2009 at 14:45


    Guar gum can be found at any good health food store. We use it to make a fun exothermic silly putty with the kids (and boric acid) at playdates/bday parties. FUN STUFF!

    Haven't tried eating it though — must use only a little as it SWELLS like made and can cause intestinal blockages without sufficient hydration/fluid ingestion.


  29. C. R. Brown on March 20, 2009 at 16:03

    Just hopped here from the Gyminee forums where this site was linked about paleo diets. I'm a noob and currently trying to wrap my head around what exactly I should and should not be eating. And frankly it's doing my head in. It took me almost 3 hours just quantify what I ate nutritionally via the tools on the site and internet.

    Since the talk turned to curry and recipes I decided to pop out from lurking to share. I too love the curry especilly with spice and coconut! That pic shows it in a crockpot after browning the chicken, anyway here's a couple recipes I can share…

    1.5 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast in 1" cubes
    1 onion diced
    1 jalapeno, seeded & deveined
    4 cloves garlic diced
    1 red bell pepper diced
    1 tbsp. grated ginger
    1 tbsp julienned basil leaf
    1 can coconut milk
    1.5 tsp flour

    2 tbsp. garam masala
    3 tbsp. curry mix
    salt to taste
    cracked pepper

    combine Spice mix in bowl
    add cubed chicken to bowl and coat, let sit for at least 1 hour

    Saute onion, red bell pepper, garlic and jalapeno. About 3-5 minutes or until translucent.

    Remove from pan and set aside.

    Depending on pan size cook the chicken in batches to a nice deep brown. Remove each batch and set aside together.

    When chicken is done add coconut milk (reserving about 2 ounces), ginger and basil to pan and bring to a saute'.

    Add flour to reserved coconut milk and mix well then add to pan. When sauce has thickened incorporate the onion and pepper mix and then add the chicken.

    Serve with rice.

    Notes: The curry mix I used did not have much heat. Would switch to a Hot Madras. Also the ending sauce was bland to my taste. Would add salt to sauce as well as increase the amount of basil and ginger used. The chicken turned out well but wasn't supported by the sauce.

    and a variation on the baove….

    1.5 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast in 1" cubes
    1 onion diced
    1 jalapeno, seeded & deveined
    1 red bell pepper diced
    2 tbsp. grated ginger
    2 tbsp cilanto
    1 can coconut milk
    1 tsp flour
    1 small plain yogurt

    1 tbsp. garam masala
    3 tbsp. hot madras curry mix
    salt to taste
    cracked pepper

    combine Spice mix and yogurt in bowl
    add cubed chicken to bowl and coat, let sit for at least 1 hour

    Depending on pan size cook the chicken in batches to a nice deep brown. Remove each batch and set aside.

    Saute onion, red bell pepper and jalapeno. About 3-5 minutes or until translucent.

    Add coconut milk (reserving about 2 ounces), ginger and cilantro to pan and bring to a saute.

    Add flour to reserved coconut milk and mix well then add to pan. When sauce has thickened add the chicken.

  30. Aaron on March 23, 2009 at 15:51

    You inspired me to buy a can of coconut milk and a packet of Vindaloo (sp?) mix to stir fry with some lamb and carrots. I served it over Jasmine rice, and had some bone marrow on sprouted bread as a side. This was super last night and it was great! I have never felt so full and satiated after eating moderate portions (I didn't even have seconds!).

  31. Richard Nikoley on March 23, 2009 at 14:37

    I'll see about doing a post on making sauces. In the meantime, check the 'food porn' category and just scroll through. There's quite a few posts where I have sauces, and most of them have some description.

    In the end, let your imagination run wild. Flour and corn starch are absolutely unnecessary.

  32. minneapolis J on March 23, 2009 at 22:10

    Couldn't agree with you more about Indians with lousy body compositions. Richard the thing I have to ask, what would you say your caloric consumption is approximately. and how about the protein/fat/carb percentages? I think adding the sauces is a great way to pad up that ratio. I think my ratio of protein fat carb is like 40 50 10, but when I tend to lower my calories its like 50 40 10. Nothing wrong with saturated fat. I mean logically speaking, how could something natural hurt our bodies?

  33. golooraam on March 24, 2009 at 12:12

    Hi Richard,

    I am an American of Indian heritage (West Bengal specifically),thanks for your great blog, I have started ending my meals with a 1/2 cup to 3/4 of organic coconut milk with a little raw cacao powder and organic cinnamon…

    since adding coconut milk/cream into my diet a few days ago, I am losing again, even though I bumped up my calories

    I am also using the coconut milk as a sauce for my raw tartares, which are getting tougher to eat ironically… I just himalayan crystal salt, organic turmeric/cumin and just throw it on the raw meat, a lot better

    my fav meat for this Prather Farm sirloin tip, we can buy it at the SF Ferry Building – I also use their lard, I am assuming that is the one you use as well

  34. minneapolis J on March 24, 2009 at 12:37

    Nice to see another Indian following this lifestyle. If there was any race this would be tough on it would be Indians who eat high refined carb diet.

    Nice also to see that you are not scared of lard as Indian people(many don't eat beef or pork) would be terrified of this idea.

    Richard got me into bacon, I am not going to lie….and not regretting it the least bit.

  35. Richard Nikoley on March 24, 2009 at 10:29

    Vindaloo is also fabulous with shrimp. It's best when very spicy.

    Richard Nikoley

  36. Richard Nikoley on March 24, 2009 at 10:33

    Wow. That dish looks great. Thanks for sharing the recipes.

  37. Richard Nikoley on March 24, 2009 at 11:23

    I really don't know, J. I don't count cals and I don't count grams. But, I know I eat not a lot of carbs, so I'd roughly estimate 60% fat.

  38. Richard Nikoley on March 24, 2009 at 12:56

    Yep, love that Prather leaf lard, and it's a good price, too.

  39. StephenB on October 13, 2009 at 10:43

    Richard, what was your HDL like before you started a paleo diet? Mine is now the highest it’s ever been at 51, but I’d like to get it higher. I posted my results on a low fat diet and on a high fat diet here: .

    • Richard Nikoley on October 14, 2009 at 09:11

      I was typically in the 60s as I recall for the couple of tests I had in the few years prior to going paleo.

      From the looks of your lipids I’d say you’re on the right track.

  40. O Primitivo on August 22, 2010 at 07:43

    Low HDL Cholesterol is Associated with Lower Gray Matter Volume in Cognitively Healthy Adults. –

  41. Lynn on January 6, 2017 at 03:17

    My cholesterol levels went up when I changed to a high good fats diet mostly coconut oil olive oil avocados and grass fed butter also ate organic eggs every day my doctor told me to cut out the coconut oil because that was raising my ldl I thought the eggs may have been the problem

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