Coconut oil had become quite the rage in everything from hair and beauty products to cooking. Often branded as a seemingly better-for-you, coconut oil is popping up as a common ingredient in health foods. But contrary to popular belief, coconut oil is not the “good fat” everyone has it out to be.
According to a report from the American Heart Association, it turns out, coconut oil is actually worse for you than lard or butter. Beef lard is made up of 50% saturated fat compared to butter at 63% fat. Meanwhile, coconut oil comes in at a whopping 82% saturated fat content.
The American Heart Association report also included a review of seven clinical trials examining the relationship between coconut oil and heart disease. Findings from all seven studies were the same: Coconut oil raises levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the blood.
So what does this all mean for your heart? Cori Russell, M.D., a cardiovascular specialist at Henry Ford Health explains why there is reason for concern.
“Saturated fats, often found in meat and dairy products as well as coconut oil, can increase LDL levels in your blood,” says Dr. Russell. “This in turn increases your risk of heart disease, peripheral artery disease and stroke.”
Eating foods that contain coconut oil can increase your risk for heart problems. Fatty plaque buildup causes the artery walls to harden and narrow, making it difficult for blood to deliver the oxygen and nutrients your organs need. Over time, an artery in your head, neck or heart may become blocked or burst open (rupture), causing a heart attack or stroke.
To make matters worse, just a little coconut oil is all it takes to max out your daily saturated fat. One tablespoon has 11 grams, which is close to the 13-gram limit recommended by the American Heart Association. Staying within these dietary guidelines is one of many ways to stick to a heart healthy diet.
“Many patients have switched from olive oil to coconut oil based on the false belief that it's healthier,” says Dr. Russell. “On the contrary, I would recommend that coconut oil be used sparingly and not for health benefits.”
Maintaining a healthy diet is one of many things you can do to take care of your heart. A healthy diet should include fat, but options with less saturated fat that are better for your heart, such as olive and vegetable oils. If you have a favorite dish that calls for coconut oil, limiting your portion size can help you stay within the recommended daily limit of saturated fat. You can also focus on eating foods with heart-healthy fats like olive oil, avocados and nuts.
Take the heart risk quiz to find out.
To schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a heart expert at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-436-7936.
Dr. Cori Russell is a cardiologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Pierson Clinic in Grosse Pointe Farms.