The health food community is reeling with the June 2017 presidential advisory report released by the American Heart Association (AHA) and published in the journal Circulation that advises against the use of coconut oil.
According to the AHA’s Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory, more than 80 percent of coconut oil is made up of saturated fat, far more than even butter, which is 63 percent saturated fat. In seven different research studies reviewed, saturated fat increased the level of LDL-cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol.
The AHA advisory reported on a number of trials that showed that lowering the overall intake of dietary saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced the risk of death from heart disease by around 30 percent.
The AHA advisory, which was widely reported and featured in a prominent article in USA Today, stated: “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.”
Keep in mind that the AHA’s recommendation is controversial for two reasons:
It is not new research, but a review of other research studies, most of which did not specifically study coconut oil.
The findings about saturated fat are not universally accepted by scientists. For example, a high-profile study published in the British Medical Journal in 2015 found that trans fats — not saturated fats — are the fats associated with cardiovascular disease risk. Harvard Medical School agrees.
Nutritionist Diana Rodgers, RD, LDN, NTP recommends that you “take the recommendations of the AHA with a grain of salt” in her detailed rebuttal article, “Why Coconut Oil Won’t Kill You, But Listening to the American Heart Association Might!”
Gizmodo science writer Ryan Mandelbaum, in his article “Please Calm Down: Coconut Oil Is Fine,” makes an excellent point, writing: “Coconut oil isn’t a health food and it isn’t junk food, it’s just another food. Calm down.”
Coconut oil has been a favorite of the holistic nutritional world for a number of years, touted as a heart-healthy, metabolism-boosting, weight-loss promoting fat. It is also touted as helpful for thyroid health and function. Coconut oil is a staple in many popular diet plans, including low-carbohydrate, low-carbohydrate/high fat (LCHF), and ketogenic diet plans.
The challenge, however, is that the more rigorous studies showing weight loss or the metabolism-raising benefits of coconut oil have evaluated a specific ingredient in coconut oil — medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT — and used 100 percent MCT oil. Coconut oil is richer in MCTs than other oils, but most coconut oil only has 13 to 15 percent MCTs. A number of nutritional advocates, including Dave Asprey, the founder of the popular Bulletproof Diet, and Mark Hyman, MD, recommend pure MCT oil rather than coconut oil to aid in weight loss efforts.
Should you stop eating coconut oil?
Is it time to stop eating coconut oil? Here are three tips:
If you are eating a large amount of coconut oil and have risk factors for heart disease, you may want to cut back on the coconut oil and replace it with polyunsaturated fats. Foods rich in polyunsaturated fat include walnuts, sunflower seeds, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout, and a variety of vegetable oils.
If you’re adding coconut oil to your diet, keep in mind that it should replace — and not add to — the total fat in your diet.
If you are considering coconut oil to boost metabolism and aid in weight loss, you may want to consider using MCT oil rather than coconut oil.
Let’s give Gizmodo’s Ryan Mandelbaum the last word:
“The AHA’s conclusions are that you shouldn’t try to lower your total fat intake, but instead, replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat, combined with a healthier lifestyle. But this is what everyone has been saying all along, because the ultimate message is to basically just eat less meat and dessert, eat more vegetables, and don’t overdo it with the coconut oil.”
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Mary Shomon is a thyroid disease, hormonal and autoimmune health writer, and patient advocate. For two decades, Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered thyroid and hormonal health care. Mary is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Thyroid Diet Revolution,” “Your Healthy Pregnancy with Thyroid Disease,” “Living Well With Hypothyroidism,” and 10 other books on thyroid disease and integrative health. She co-stars in two PBS health specials, “Healthy Hormones,” and “Vibrant for Life.” Follow her on Twitter at @thyroidmary or at her Facebook communities: ThyroidSupport and ThyroidDiet.