Coconut oil might be a good fix for dry skin, but it isn't the magical cooking solution that wellness bloggers claim it is. In recent years, the trendy oil, which is extracted from the meat of coconuts, has been touted as a "healthy" fat that's better for our bodies than the fats found in meats and dairy products. Yet according to a new review paper from the American Heart Association, the so-called health food actually contains saturated fat that increases “bad” cholesterol.
As USA Today reports, in seven out of seven controlled trials, researchers noted that coconut oil caused LDL—the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries—to spike, along with HDL, the "good" kind of cholesterol that helps removes the compound from our arteries. Changes in HDL cholesterol aren't linked directly to changes in cardiovascular health, but there is still an indirect link between LDL cholesterol and an unhealthy heart. “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD (cardiovascular disease), and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil,” the American Heart Association concluded.
Surprisingly, coconut oil contains 82 percent saturated fat—far more than butter (63 percent), beef fat (50 percent), and pork lard (39 percent). So how, then, did it become a health fad? Marketing, for starters, along with research showing that coconut oil has a higher proportion of fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MTCs). These MTCs may rev up metabolism rates more than long-chain triglycerides, which are found in most fats and oils. However, the Cornell University researchers who conducted the study used a special coconut oil that contained 100 percent MTCs, while regular coconut oil contains only 13 to 15 percent. A follow-up study showed that lower doses of MTCs don't help overweight adolescents shed pounds.
However you incorporate fat in your diet, the AHA advises that our daily calorie intake to be comprised of no more than 6 percent saturated fats. If you like the taste and consistency of coconut oil in your foods, feel free to continue using it (albeit sparingly), but consider using vegetable oils more often. And in the future, check with your doctor before embracing new claims that a now-trendy food offers newly discovered health benefits.