Health-conscious eaters rejoiced when news came out that all fats are not created equal. After hearing this nutrition news, dieters and gourmands alike have been on the lookout for healthy fats to incorporate into their cooking. The latest health food lovechild? Coconut oil.
Sadly, new information may signal coconut oil’s fall from grace as a favorite fat. According to a report released by the American Heart Association (AHA), coconut oil may be as bad (if not worse) for us than butter and lard.
Sources like the Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Lifestyle blog encourage folks to indulge in healthy fats now and then. The reason? Research has shown that monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and Omega-3 fatty acids each offer healthy benefits (in moderation, of course). Standing out among its fatty peers, coconut oil was believed to carry a powerful nutritional punch, with diet and health bloggers claiming the food could increase metabolism, up energy levels, and boost immunity and digestion (not to mention make your hair look luxurious).
Reporting through the Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease advisory, the American Heart Association said, “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 advice is as clear as clarified butter.
Lead author of the report, Frank Sacks, stated he doesn’t understand why folks ever thought coconut oil was healthy. Sacks states that it’s almost 100% fat, and so it seems counterintuitive that this rich food additive could carry benefits that outweigh the heavy harm.
Prior studies are perhaps the culprit. One such research study came out of Columbia University Medical Center and was spearheaded by associate professor of nutritional medicine Marie-Pierre St-Onge. According to St-Onge, her research has shown that eating medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) could increase metabolism more than eating long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). Because coconut oil has a higher content of MCTs than many other oils and fats, health and diet bloggers took the research and ran.
Read the fine print and you’d find that St-Onge’s research didn’t use pure coconut oil; instead, researchers employed a “designer oil” packed with 100% MCTs. The coconut oil on your grocer’s shelf contains only about 13 to 15% MCTs. And in a subsequent study, St-Onge found that smaller doses of MCTs don’t help with weight loss.
When compiling its report, the Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease advisory looked at existing data on saturated fat. In seven out of seven controlled trials, the research indicated that coconut oil increases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. What’s more – the researchers saw no difference between coconut oil and other high-fat oils, like beef fat, butter, and palm oil. In fact, coconut oil had the most egregious saturated fat content, coming in at 82% and far ahead of pork lard (39%), beef fat (50%) and butter (63%).
What to do? The quick answer is to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet. According to the AHA, folks seeking to lower cholesterol should eat no more than 6% of saturated fat as part of their total daily calories.
Wondering what to cook with now? Before you put coconut oil to the hair and skin care shelf, try using it sparingly. It’s best used for high-heat cooking and frying. When sautéing or flavoring your foods, substitute in other healthier fats like vegetable and olive oils. Make this simple switch and your taste buds will stay happy while you keep your heart healthy.