By: Sydney Richards, RD, LDN
It seems like everyone has been going nuts over coconut oil lately. I’ve heard every health claim from weight loss to treating Alzheimer’s disease. But is coconut oil really healthy? I took a look at the research to find out.
Most of my clients are surprised to learn that coconut oil is a saturated fat – even more so than butter! Typically saturated fat raises “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowers “good” HDL cholesterol, which increases your risk for heart disease. For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends limiting daily saturated fat intake to 7% of total calories. To give you an idea, this is about 15.5 grams of saturated fat on a 2000 calorie diet.
The majority of saturated fat found in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT). Lauric acid is processed differently by the body compared to other fats. It is more readily burned for energy than converted into fat, hence the weight loss claims. Lauric acid, like other saturated fats, still raises “bad” LDL cholesterol, but also seems to raise “good” HDL cholesterol. So what does this mean?
Coconut oil appears to be neutral in terms of heart health, but there’s not enough evidence right now to make a scientific statement. There are only a few studies that look specifically at coconut oil and heart disease. Given what we know about saturated fat, I would not recommend cooking everything you eat in coconut oil, but if you like the taste of it, there is no harm in consuming coconut oil in moderation. Just make sure to buy “virgin” coconut oil (the least processed type) and eat an overall healthy diet that emphasizes unsaturated fats from plant oils, avocado, nuts, seeds and fatty fish.