Dear Dietitian: Is coconut oil bad for you?
This past week a Harvard doctor referred to coconut oil as “pure poison,” which set off a social media firestorm. What’s all the fuss about? Another doctor was quoted as saying coconut oil is safe to use in moderation. What, exactly, is moderation?
This what we know from thirty years of research: Coconut oil is high in saturated fat. A diet high in saturated fat is a risk factor for high cholesterol, which in turn, is a risk factor for heart disease. Yes, there have been a handful of studies that claim that saturated fats are not a risk factor for heart disease, or at least not as big a factor as was once believed. But we have over 30 years of research that says it is.
Keep in mind that fat is only one piece of the puzzle. Other important factors include total caloric intake, smoking, and the one we have no control over – genetics.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to 13 grams per day if you need to lower your cholesterol. One tablespoon of butter contains 7 grams of saturated fat; 1 tablespoon coconut oil equals 14 grams; 1 tablespoon olive oil contains 1.9 grams; and 1 tablespoon canola oil gives you 1.1 grams saturated fat.
Is coconut oil poison? Of course not; nor is it heart healthy. It is heart healthy to choose fats that contain less saturated fat and more monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil or canola oil. Oils high in polyunsaturated fats, like corn oil or sunflower oil, are also a wise choice. Keep it simple.
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian, and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician from St. Louis, Mo.