The Grapevine

Don't Depend on Coconut Oil for Heart Health; It Increases LDL Cholesterol

Coconut oil has become an increasingly popular ingredient as consumers look for healthier plant-based foods that are low in unsaturated fats. But maybe that container of coconut oil should remain in your pantry for now, given the results of a study review that looked at how healthy coconut oil really is. The researchers found that consuming coconut oil may actually increase your “bad” cholesterol, much more than other non-tropical vegetable oils.

“Good” vs “Bad” Cholesterol

Not all cholesterol is bad. Our body needs some in order to produce vital hormones, vitamin D, and other substances. The “bad” cholesterol we hear so much about is called low-density lipoprotein or LDL. The “good” cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein or HDL. The LDL can cause a plaque build-up in your arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow freely. Plaque can also break off and travel to your heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke. HDL, on the other hand, cleans your blood by removing some of the LDL. Many factors can increase LDL, such as diabetes, obesity, unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles, drinking alcohol, and smoking. 

What the Study Looked At

The study, published in the American Heart Association (AHA)’s journal Circulation, was led by researchers from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore. They evaluated 16 studies from online medical databases that compared coconut oil’s effects against heart-healthy oils. These oils, such as olive oil, canola oil and almond oil, among others, have less saturated fat and contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are good for your heart, according to the AHA.

In the review's conclusion, the researchers found that coconut oil consumption increased LDL cholesterol levels 10.47 mg/dL more than non-tropical vegetable oils did. Although, the coconut oil did positively impact good cholesterol (and increase of 4.00 mg/dL), the negative effect was far worse.

Just being overweight or obese is a major risk for heart disease, which kills 647,000 Americans every year, according to the CDC. And since coconut oil is high in saturated fat, the researchers also wanted to know the impact coconut oil may have on weight gain. Obesity, inflammation and fasting glucose (blood glucose levels after you have fasted for several hours) were not affected by the coconut oil. Only the LDL was visibly increased.

All Oils Must Be Used With Caution

The Mayo Clinic calls the notion of coconut oil being heart-healthy a myth because there is no evidence on the supposed benefits. Other vegetable oils such as canola or olive oil have been studied across long-term studies, leading researchers to believe they are safe to consume. However, the right oils must be used for the right purposes. Some oils should not be used at higher temperatures.

Choosing the appropriate cooking oil should be determined by the maximum temperature at which it can burn, called the smoke point. This is when the oil turns toxic at a high boiling point. For instance, almond, avocado and hazelnut oils have a high smoke point. If you need an oil that has a higher smoke point, you should choose one in this group. Corn, hemp and pumpkin seed oils have medium smoke points, explains Cleveland Clinic.

Additionally, the AHA tells us to avoid partially hydrogenated oils or those made with unsaturated fat called trans-fat, which is known to increase LDL. For every tablespoon, the oils should have less than 4 grams of saturated fat, the AHA states. So, the next time you're out grocery shopping, you know what not to get. 

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