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Feature Article

Is Coconut Oil Really Good for You?

Recent hype has led to coconut oil being recommended for everything from treating cancer to weight loss and preventing tooth decay. But is it really a magic bullet that can cure all of your health concerns?

High in Saturated Fat

Coconut oil is called an oil even though it is generally solid at room temperature and is the most saturated of the fats at about 90 percent. To compare, butter is about 64 percent saturated fat, and beef and lard are both about 40 percent. 

In general, saturated fat raises LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides while lowering HDL “good” cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, saturated fats should be limited to less than 13g per day for heart health, which is just one tablespoon of coconut oil. Incidentally, the saturated fat in a lean hamburger or one ounce of cheese is approximately 5g.

Evidence & Studies

“Many of the claims of the amazing benefits of coconut oil are from testimonials, not scientific evidence,” said Theresa Anderson, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. “There have been several well researched short-term studies showing the benefits of coconut oil on cholesterol – though not heart disease or diabetes. Those studies show that coconut oil may lower total cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol, however it may also increase LDL cholesterol which leads to hardening of the arteries.

“Overall the evidence from scientific studies to date suggests that replacing coconut oil with healthier unsaturated fats is a better choice to reduce risk factors for heart disease. In terms of healthy fats, your best bet is still liquid vegetable oils like olive oil, fish oil, and fats from nuts, avocado and seeds,” said Anderson. 

“New scientific evidence is always being published and researchers are continuing to investigate this fat and the possibility that there may be other beneficial nutrients in coconut and coconut oil, so stay tuned,” she said. “In the meantime, use it sparingly in food as you would any saturated fat.”

Learn more about healthy diets, see our articles on the Mediterranean, DASH and anti-inflammatory diets.