Contrary to marketing claims, coconut oil is not healthy. The supposed health food is in fact as unhealthy to the heart as beef fat and butter, heart health experts said in a new advisory.
AHA's Take On Coconut Oil And Saturated Fat
The American Heart Association (AHA) said that coconut oil is packed with saturated fat. Coconut oil even contains more saturated fat at 82 percent than beef fat and butter, with 50 percent and 63 percent saturated fat content respectively.
Saturated fat is known to increase LDL. Also known as bad cholesterol, LDL in the body is the main cause of atherosclerosis, the hardening and clogging of the arteries that can lead to cardiovascular diseases, strokes, and heart attacks.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted the importance of a healthy diet low in saturated fat in preventing heart disease.
"Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications," the CDC said. "Eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol."
Sources Of Unhealthy Saturated Fat
Nutrition professor Rachel Johnson, from the University of Vermont, said that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat can help reduce cardiovascular disease incidents. She said that the main sources of saturated fats besides coconut oil include butter, beef tallow, palm oil, lard, and palm kernel oil.
Healthier Alternatives To Coconut Oil And Oils High In Saturated Fat
Consumers who are looking for healthier alternatives to coconut oil and oils high in saturated fat can swap them for vegetable oils or olive oil. Johnson said that the healthier oils include corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil.
Other healthy cooking oils include grape seed oil, avocado oil, pistachio oil, hemp oil, and sesame oil. Macadamia nut oil is filled with monounsaturated fat, the good fat that lowers the size of fat cells in the body.
The advisory said that cardiovascular disease was reduced by about 30 percent, which is comparable to the effects of cholesterol-lowering drug statin, when saturated fat is replaced by vegetable oil in the diet. Switching to healthier oils was also linked with reduced rates of death from all causes.
"Taking into consideration the totality of the scientific evidence, satisfying rigorous criteria for causality, we conclude strongly that lowering intake of saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, will lower the incidence of CVD," wrote advisory author Frank Sacks, from Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues on the journal Circulation.
Frying Food Is Okay
Sacks said he is not against frying food but advised consumers to reduce intake of saturated fat.
"There's nothing wrong with deep frying as long as you deep fry in a nice unsaturated vegetable oil," Sacks said.
He recommends canola, corn oil, soybean oil, or extra virgin olive oil. Virgin olive oil is particularly healthy, as suggested by research. In one study, researchers found that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil can improve the benefits of High Density Lipoproteins (HDL), known as the good cholesterol.