Coconut oil & cholesterol- what does the latest research say and how does it affect your health?

  • 2 Minutes Read
Joanna Kriehn
Joanna Kriehn, MS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

A recent research study published in the journal Circulation showed that there is a connection between coconut oil consumption and cholesterol. The study found that consuming coconut oil negatively impacted cholesterol levels, specifically LDL. Read on to learn more about the study findings and how they may apply to you and your loved ones.

Coconut oil and cholesterol

What's the connection between coconut oil and cholesterol?

Coconut oil is a versatile oil used when cooking and baking. It contains 14g of total fat per tablespoon with about 12 of those fat grams coming from saturated fat. Olive oil on the other hand contains the same amount of calories and fat grams per tablespoon yet only 2 grams of saturated fat. This is important because research shows that ingesting too much saturated fat in our diet can increase our cholesterol by raising low density lipoproteins (LDL) concentrations. It is estimated that 33% of American adults have elevated (above goal) LDL concentrations. Elevated LDL concentrations in the blood have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and nearly half of all U.S. adults have some type of cardiovascular disease.

Results from a research study on coconut oil and heart health

This systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Circulation looked at the the effect of coconut oil consumption on cardiovascular risk factors. A total of 16 articles were included in the study. Articles were screened using specific criteria spelled out by the researchers. Study quality was assessed and they were included if they were controlled clinical trials that looked at the effect of coconut oil or coconut fat, compared with any vegetable oil low in saturated fat and had a minimum intervention period of 2 weeks.

Results from the study found that coconut oil consumption significantly increased LDL-cholesterol by 10.47mg/dl and HDL-cholesterol by 4.0mg/dl, with no impact on triglycerides as compared with other non-tropical vegetable oils. The researchers found that coconut oil consumption did not significantly affect markers of glycemia (the presence of glucose in the blood), inflammation, and adiposity when compared to nontropical vegetable oils.

Why might coconut oil raise cholesterol levels?

The researchers from the study believe that the cholesterol increasing effect of coconut oil comes from its high saturated fat content. Saturated fats are primarily found in foods rich in animal fats as well as tropical fats such as palm kernel oil, palm oil and coconut oil. The American Heart Association suggests consuming between 5-6% of your daily calories from saturated fat as one component of a heart healthy diet. If you want to continue to incorporate coconut oil into your diet, watch your portions. For example, if you are eating 1800 calories per day, then consuming 1 Tbsp of coconut oil per day translates to 12g of saturated fat which is 6% of your total calories.

Should you eat coconut oil if you are concerned about heart health and weight loss?

There are several factors to keep in mind here. First off, if you are working hard to lose weight, coconut oil is high in calories and too much of it may be counterproductive to your goals. Secondly, since heart disease is so prevalent, it is important to follow dietary patterns that reduce risk. We know that elevated LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. With this new research on coconut oil and its impact on LDL cholesterol, we now have more data showing that coconut oil is not so heart healthy.

Here's the bottom line: If you can't imagine giving up coconut oil, try some intentional ways to add it into specific dishes or find alternative ways to include coconut in your diet. For example:

To learn more about heart healthy eating

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Foods & Recipes->Oils Nutrients->Oils
Feb 24, 2020

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