Coconut Oil Is Not a Healthy Replacement for Other Saturated Fats
The media and pop culture will frequently glorify a “superfood” for its supposed health benefits, power to heal or ability to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. In some cases, as with blueberries and their antioxidant properties or green veggies and their heart health benefits, the claims are accurate. But in other cases, the super power of the superfood in question is too good to be true.
This is the case with coconut oil, which has been touted for its near-mythical abilities to fix everything from skin issues and brittle hair, to its ability to improve your concentration and serve as a healthy replacement for other fats.
According to a recent statement from the American Heart Association, when it comes to heart health, coconut oil is not as good as proponents would have you believe. In fact, you should limit it completely.
“If you’re searching online for health information and how to improve your nutrition, it can be tricky to decipher fact from fiction,” said Crozer-Keystone nutritionist Megan Ramaika, MA, RD, LDN. “However, in this case, the science and heart experts agree that coconut oil is not a healthy alternative or replacement for other fats in your diet.”
Saturated Fat Is the Problem
Coconut oil is loaded with saturated fat. In fact, 82 percent of the fat found in coconut oil is of the saturated variety. This is higher than animal sources of saturated fat such as butter (63 percent), beef fat (50 percent), and pork lard (39 percent).
“Saturated fats are essential to life and you need consume some to be healthy,” said Ramaika. “However, the vast majority of Americans consume too much saturated fat, which raises their risk for health problems.”
The American Heart Association recommends reducing saturated fat intake so that it accounts for no more than five to six percent of your total daily calories. Too much dietary saturated fat is linked to an increase in LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad” cholesterol that increases your risk for heart disease. Reducing or eliminating these saturated fats—including coconut oil—from your diet can help to lower the risk for these health issues.
Don’t Replace Saturated Fats with a Bad Alternative
Some proponents of coconut oil continue to advocate for its health benefits, citing other studies that show reducing consumption of saturated fats doesn’t lower the risk for high cholesterol and heart disease. The problem is, these studies do not capture the full story.
“Many people who reduce saturated fats from their diet then replace those calories with another unhealthy choice,” said Ramaika.
If you’re removing saturated fats but then adding sugar and other high-carbohydrate foods as a replacement, your health will still suffer. The better option is to replace coconut oil with a healthier alternative.
The American Heart Association recommends cooking with “better for you” oils such as canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower or a mixture of these oils.
“As with everything in life, moderation is the key with coconut oil and other saturated fats,” said Ramaika. “Don’t eat much of it, but if you find it helps moisturize your hair or your skin, there’s nothing wrong with using it externally.”
Crozer-Keystone Medical Nutrition Therapy
Crozer-Keystone Health System offers credible nutrition information for patients and the community. Services are available for children and adults of all ages. Whether you have a health condition or you just want to learn how to eat healthy, Crozer-Keystone offers counseling to help you reach your goals. To learn more, visit crozerkeystone.org/Nutrition.