We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but a new American Heart Association report has some unfortunate findings for fans of coconut oil. Apparently, it’s not the wellness staple everyone thought – on the contrary, its contribution to increased levels of LDL cholesterol (AKA bad cholesterol) is comparable to other saturated fats such as butter, beef fat, and palm oil.
The Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease advisory didn’t conduct new research to come to this conclusion, but instead re-evaluated and clarified existing data. Frank Sacks, MD, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author on the report, wrote of the importance of dispelling the myth surrounding coconut oil as a health food.
“We wanted to respond to the misinformation —promoted by some scientists and some journalists— that casts doubt on sound nutritional science,” he writes in the report. “There’s no basis at all for that, and in fact we were trying to figure out where those claims came from. Coconut oil is pure fat and there’s nothing known about it that would mitigate the bad effects of saturated fat.”
Those claims may originate from previous studies on weight loss where coconut oil was touted as a nutritious alternative to other fats. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University Medical Center told TIME that her research on medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) is responsible for this.
“Coconut oil has a higher proportion of MCTs than most other fats or oils, and my research showed eating MCTs may increase the rate of metabolism more than eating long-chain triglycerides,” she said. However, her research utilized a “designer oil” containing 100 percent MCTs —where regular coconut oil only contains between 13-15 percent— meaning that in order for coconut oil you buy at the store to have any real effect, ridiculously high amounts of it would have to be consumed.
Meanwhile, the new AHA study found that in seven out of seven controlled trials, coconut oil increased LDL cholesterol, which is directly linked to cardiovascular disease. As an alternative, the researchers recommend replacing saturated fats —such as those found in meat, full-fat milk, and butter— with healthier oils like canola, soybean, and sunflower, to name a few. They cited studies where polyunsaturated vegetable oil was used in lieu of saturated fat as showing a reduction in cardiovascular disease by about 30 percent.
Of course, there are caveats to be made and contrasting reports to consider in the face of this new research. For starters, cutting out saturated fat doesn’t necessarily correlate to a lower risk of heart disease: As a 2015 study found, people are likely to fill the void left by those fats with sugar, white flour, and junk foods, all of which are equally bad for your health. Other studies suggest that the lauric acid that is found in coconut oil’s saturated fat is antimicrobial and may boost metabolism. And overall, saturated fats seem to be making something of a comeback. Even butter is enjoying some nutritional redemption lately, with some experts recommending adding it to coffee for a healthy energy boost.
Plus, the AHA study also didn’t find anything wrong with deep-frying foods (in unsaturated vegetable oil, of course), which seems a little perplexing.
While the Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease advisory is now staunchly against the use of coconut oil, there is a silver lining. Experts around the board still agree that it makes a great all-natural beauty tool, particularly as a moisturizer or hair conditioner.
“You can put it on your body, but don’t put it in your body,” says Sacks.
Source: The Boston Herald
Photography via iNatural.