There seems to be a lot of chatter these days about coconut oil. Many of my patients ask me if it’s okay to use – in fact, it’s one of the most frequent diet-related questions I get asked. The answer? It’s a bit complicated. Practically speaking, coconut oil does hold up better for high-temperature cooking than olive oil – but how does it compare in terms of health benefits?
Here’s the good news: Coconut oil gives “good” HDL cholesterol a significant boost –even more so than most other natural fats.
But that’s about as far as the health benefits go.
Coconut oil, unlike other vegetarian fats, is saturated. You can tell because it’s solid at room temperature. In fact, coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, which is a higher percentage than butter (about 64% saturated fat), beef fat (40%), or even lard (also 40%).
Why is this so disturbing? Because we know, from lots and lots of studies, that saturated fats tend to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and elevate blood inflammatory markers – both of which place people at higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
That said, all of this data on the ill effects of saturated fat comes from studies that looked only at animal sources – the butter, beef fat and lard mentioned above. But what if the saturated fat comes from plants? Is the effect the same?
This is where it gets complicated. The data generally shows that LDL levels do go up when coconut oil is consumed, but not as much as if an equivalent amount of butter were consumed. And, also unlike animal-based saturated fats, coconut oil does not seem to trigger an inflammatory response.
So, bottom line: Of all the saturated fat options, coconut oil is the best one. But you’re still better off eating a handful of nuts or using flax seed, linseed or olive oil on your salad – especially if you’re trying to keep your LDL down.