A new American Heart Association Report advises people not to use coconut oil in their food.
So we put our VERIFY team on the task of figuring out – is it worse for your heart than other oils?
For years it has been labeled a healthy alternative to butter and other oils, with many health blogs and sites saying it’ll help you lose weight.
But after we read this AHA report, we checked out research from the Harvard School of Public Health, and called up Dr. Ravi Vallabhan from Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital.
It all boils down to saturated fat and cholesterol.
Coconut oil has more saturated fat than other oils – about 82 percent, whereas butter is 63 percent saturated fat, beef fat is 50 percent and pork lard comes in at 39 percent.
Dr. Vallabhan says that’s why you shouldn’t cook with it. Your food soaks in the fat, increasing calories and fat content. He makes the same warning for any oil with high saturated fat content.
The AHA says coconut oil also increases LDL cholesterol, that’s the bad kind – the kind that clogs your arteries. But it also notes coconut oil ups the amount of good cholesterol.
We asked Dr. Vallabhan about this, he says that’s not enough to outweigh the bad cholesterol hike. That’s what increases your cardiovascular risk.
And Harvard School of Public Health backs him up saying “coconut oil’s special HDL-boosting effect may make it "less bad" than the high saturated fat content would indicate ... but it's still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease."
So, no, coconut oil isn’t better for your heart than other oils. If you’re looking for a heart-healthy fat to cook with, Dr. Vallabhan recommends olive oil or vegetable oils.
Dr. Ravi Vallabhan, Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital
Harvard School of Public Health
EDITORS NOTE: Our Verify team tackled this story today after seeing it on USA TODAY. You can read that version in its original form below:
The American Heart Association recently released a report advising against the use of coconut oil.
The Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease advisory reviewed existing data on saturated fat, showing coconut oil increased LDL ("bad") cholesterol in seven out of seven controlled trials. Researchers didn't see a difference between coconut oil and other oils high in saturated fat, like butter, beef fat and palm oil. In fact, 82% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, according to the data — far beyond butter (63%), beef fat (50%) and pork lard (39%).
"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 American Heart Association said in the Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease advisory.
Frank Sacks, lead author on the report, said he has no idea why people think coconut oil is healthy. It's almost 100% fat. Past weight loss studies might be responsible.
“The reason coconut oil is so popular for weight loss is partly due to my research on medium chain triglycerides," Marie-Pierre St-Onge, associate professor of nutritional medicine at Cornell University Medical School, told TIME in April. "Coconut oil has a higher proportion of medium-chain triglycerides than most other fats or oils, and my research showed eating medium-chain triglycerides may increase the rate of metabolism more than eating long-chain triglycerides.”
The problem is St-Onge's research used a "designer oil" packed with 100% MCTs. Traditional coconut oil only contains about 13 to 15%. Another study she published showed smaller doses of MCTs doesn't help with weight loss in overweight adolescents.
The AHA recommends eating no more than 6% of saturated fat as part of total daily calories for those who need lower cholesterol.
Before you trash your coconut oil, know that saturated fat is a loaded term. While the AHA warns against it, people who cut saturated fat out of their diet might not necessarily lower their heart disease risk, a 2015 BMJ review suggested. That's because some people fill the void with sugar, white flour and empty calories. Also, some fat is important to help bodies absorb nutrients from other foods. Many have said butter has gotten a bad reputation.
Still, it might not be a bad idea to opt for vegetable oils or olive oil, Stacks said. Plus, coconut oil can still be an effective moisturizer or hair conditioner.
"You can put it on your body, but don’t put it in your body," Sacks said.