Is Coconut Oil Heart Healthy?

coconut oilIs coconut oil heart healthy?

There are plenty of people promoting coconut oil as a heart-smart choice, but read this before you make an oil change.

Everyone seems to be crazy for coconut oil these days, and I’ve had clients and friends ask me if they should be eating a tablespoon or more a day to help them lower their cholesterol and lose belly fat.

I also think I know where a lot of the coconut oil craze started. In one of his shows, Dr. Oz said, “Coconut oil is a miracle food with super powers.” He went on to say that the oil’s most powerful benefits include weight loss, skin health and treating ulcers.

But before you make an oil change, there’s more to the story and as we’ve said before good TV often equals bad medicine.

Coconut Oil Nutrition: It’s 87% Saturated Fat

As Dr. Oz said, “…Coconut oil has gotten a bad rap because it’s saturated fat. But the science and research is changing all that we know about coconut oil.”

It’s true: Coconut oil is naturally rich in saturated fat, with 12-13 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. In fact, it has more saturated fat than lard, butter and any of the popular vegetables oils like olive oil, corn, canola, safflower or soybean oils. That’s what makes it so firm and solid at room temperature.

Saturated fat is like blood sludge that raises harmful LDL cholesterol levels and the American Heart Association recommends that we keep saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories. For a woman, that’s no more than 14 grams of saturated fat a day—or about what you get in a tablespoon of coconut oil.


Experts at most health organizations as well as Harvard School of Public Health, Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic say you should use it sparingly due to its saturated fat and calorie counts. In addition, I know of several RDs that say that clients who added more coconut oil to their diets often experienced increases in harmful cholesterol levels too. In fact, one of my colleagues said a patient’s LDL-cholesterol went from 90 to 168 after using 2Tbs daily in 5 months (she started taking it after hearing Dr. Oz promoted coconut oil on his show). What’s more, the increase in LDL was of the small particle size, which is considered the most harmful for your heart.

The research conducted and published to date on coconut oil has used virgin coconut oil, which is much different than the mass produced coconut oil that’s produced from dried coconut, and is most readily available in the supermarkets. Like extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil provides natural antioxidants that are stripped out of more processed oils. In addition, there are few human clinical trials using coconut oil that are available to back up most of the popular claims. If you’re going to purchase coconut oil, be sure it’s the virgin oil, and you can expect to pay about $10-20.00 for a 16-oz bottle.

The Bottom Line: Is Coconut Oil Heart Healthy?

Using coconut oil when cooking Thai dishes and others that call for coconut oil won’t harm your health, but adding coconut oil to your diet won’t help you improve your blood lipids or help you lose weight. For your heart’s sake, stick with extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, sunflower, grapeseed, peanut or safflower oils which are known to be neutral when it comes to raising blood fats.  If you want to peel off pounds, read our “Lose It” features and try one of our monthly calorie-controlled meal plans.



  1. says

    Merely adding “superfoods” to a diet doesn’t change the inherent quality of one’s diet. In the anecdote mentioned, I’d love to know what else that patient was eating.

    Reductionist nutrition isn’t often successful whether the advice comes from a qualified or unqualified source–and sometimes it’s outright harmful: the out of control diabetic drinking acai juice three times a day; someone struggling with heart failure and avoiding salt but using sports drinks; the heart patient avoiding fat but eating food laced with added sugars and refined starches. The whole of what one eats most often trumps any one dietary component or supplement. All health care providers need to be mindful of risks when addressing the new fad of the month. The bigger challenge is to address the insatiable appetite of the media–and their audiences– for the sensational.

  2. Jess L says

    I heard it was somewhat termed “good” saturated fat, with medium-chained fatty acids which are better than the long-chained fatty acids associated with animal saturated fat, etc.

  3. Kathleen Conner says

    Am I right in thinking that an oil that is liquid at room temperature is better for you than an oil that is solid or semi-solid at room temp? Thanks…

  4. Donna G says

    I only use it on my hair. takes out the frizzies. Guess I dont’ eat my hair conditioner! 😉

  5. Cindy says

    Saturated fats are typically found in animal products. Do they have the same effect on LDL levels when coming from a plant product? I wonder. I wish there was research to back this all up!

  6. Melissa says

    Organic Virgin Coconut Oil IS healthy for you! Unsaturated fats should be used in limited amounts. Saturated fats from animal products are not all bad either. When you choose grass fed/non-gmo fed meat the saturated fats contained are not bad for you! Hydrogenated oils & Trans Fats introduced into the Western Diet is the leading cause of arterial blockage. Here is a great article with MANY reference points to back it up as well!

Leave a Reply