June 19, 2017

Coconut oil alarmingly high in saturated fat, American Heart Association warns

Studies Nutrition
Coconut Oil joannawnuk/iStock

Coconut oil is an unhealthier alternative to butter than you might think, according to the American Heart Association.

Is coconut oil a benefits-rich cooking and skin care tool, or just marketing fodder for manufacturers?

It depends on who you ask.

But the American Heart Association, for one, warned consumers this week to stay away from the stuff.

A June 15 advisory from the association stressed that of the 13 grams of fat per serving of coconut oil, 82 percent is saturated. Studies also show that consuming coconut oil can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol as much as butter, beef drippings or palm oil.

Although coconut oil is sold as a healthier alternative to other oils, the AHA touted canola oil, which it says contains only 7 percent saturated fat.

Olive oil and vegetable oil are also far lower in saturated fats.

Frank Sacks, lead author of the advisory and professor of cardiovascular disease prevention in the Harvard School of Public Health's nutrition department, said coconut oil is a perfect example of a widely believed trend that has no scientific backing.

"I just don't know" who is pushing it, but it's not scientists, he said. Manufacturers looking to profit could be driving the trend, he said, as well as some countries' economic dependence on coconut oil.

The coconut oil plug was part of a wider report on saturated fat. Researchers culled hundreds of research papers published since the 1960s, finding evidence supporting the AHA's recommendation that saturated fat should make up less than 10 percent of a person's daily calories in a heart-healthy lifestyle.

The professor advised cooking with canola, corn, soybean or extra virgin olive oils instead of options higher in saturated fat, such as butter, lard, palm oil and, yes, coconut oil.