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.