Is Coconut Oil Healthy for Your Heart (or Not)?

A registered dietitian weighs in on the controversial oil

Contributor: Julia Zumpano, RD, LD 

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You may have heard that coconut oil is heart-healthy. But coconut oil is generally not recommended for heart health.

The culprit is saturated fat. Eighty-two percent of coconut oil is saturated fat: one tablespoon contains 12 grams (14 grams total fat).

High cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease. To lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, you should limit saturated fat intake to less than 6 percent of your daily calories. That translates to 12 grams of saturated fat per day (on a 1,800 calorie diet).

One tablespoon of coconut oil would use up your entire day’s allotment.      

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Saturated fat and LDL

In its Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Presidential Advisory, the American Heart Association noted that 72 percent of Americans consider coconut oil to be a healthy food.

But in reviewing more than 100 studies, including data showing that coconut oil increased LDL cholesterol, researchers saw no difference between coconut oil and other saturated fats like butter, fatty meat and palm oil.

Furthermore, the American Heart Association has advised against the use of coconut oil because of its ability to increase LDL cholesterol.  

What about weight loss?

Some argue that coconut oil can aid weight loss because it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs lead to greater energy expenditure than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs).

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If this appeals to you and you choose to use coconut oil, do so in moderation — and adjust the other forms of saturated fat in your diet to allow for its use.  

The oils best for your heart

For heart health, the best types of oils are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils — primarily extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Several studies on the Mediterranean diet have proven EVOO’s benefits for the heart.

To maximize the nutritional value and benefit of EVOO, avoid cooking with it at high temperatures (above 375 degrees C). More refined oils, like peanut, sunflower and canola, are acceptable to use if you need to cook at higher heats.

Following these tips will help you best reap the benefits of heart-healthy oils.

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