Is Coconut Oil Bad for Heart Health?

Since the American Heart Association (AHA) stated that coconut oil is harmful to health, many people have dropped their favorite cooking oil in favor of canola oil. After all, the AHA recommended the latter as a supposedly healthier option indicating that cooking with coconut oil was just as unhealthy as cooking with butter, beef or bacon fat.

It might be tempting to adhere to the AHA advisory, believing that coconuts, and the oil extracted from them, are villains that stalk us from grocery store shelves just waiting to clog our arteries and force us into premature death from heart attack or stroke. But is coconut oil really the enemy of our health or was the AHA advisory just an alarmist perspective on an otherwise healthy oil? What is a person to believe?

Well, let me start by stating that lumping all saturated fats together (butter, bacon fat, beef fat and coconut oil which is approximately 82 percent saturated fat) and declaring them all evil is really an oversimplification of things. On the flip side, the AHA also advised eating more oils from nuts, seeds and avocado, as well as corn, canola and soy. The latter three foods, and the oils derived from them, are heavily genetically-modified and usually contain the harmful pesticide glyphosate, and are best avoided, contrary to what the AHA will tell you.

But, let’s get back to coconut oil. The AHA indicates that consuming coconut oil will increase LDL cholesterol (often called the “bad” cholesterol) and adds that the oil has no qualities that offset its damaging effects. The reality is: coconut oil CAN raise LDL cholesterol right alongside HDL cholesterol (frequently called the “good” cholesterol). Research shows that consuming coconut oil increases HDL cholesterol and can contribute to reduced abdominal fat—a factor that is a well-documented contributor to heart disease. In other words, consuming coconut oil may actually be beneficial to improve two factors linked to heart disease.

But what about the potential increase in LDL cholesterol? Well, the jury is still out on how harmful it is to heart health. While some experts claim it is the nemesis of heart health, others cite the importance of cholesterol to manufacture essential hormones needed for health. The debate continues and there is truth to both camps. While cholesterol shouldn’t be completely ignored as bloggers across the internet seem to be recommending, neither should it be quite so feared. We need cholesterol to survive (after all, it is the direct precursor of cortisol, which is needed for life, as well as for arterial repair) but we don’t need it in excess quantities either.

Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (or MCTs) which have been shown in studies to offer many benefits to health, including cognitive benefits for those with mild Alzheimer’s disease, according to research published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Additionally, research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutritionfound that medium chain triglycerides found in coconut oil were beneficial in weight management among those studied. Further research in the medical journal Metabolismfound that medium chain triglycerides may be helpful in quelling inflammation, which has been linked to dozens of chronic health conditions, including: arthritis, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. In other words, coconut and its medium chain triglycerides may offer a range of health benefits, some of which include heart disease factors like weight, abdominal fat and inflammation.

So before you throw your coconut oil to the curb you may want to take a more moderate approach to your health and weigh the pros and cons and how they fit into your overall health.


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