BIG Nutrition: Examining coconut oil


BIG Nutrition: Examining coconut oil

Coconut oil, popularized by Paleo diets, has become almost common place in recipes and health blogs, so this is an interesting fat to examine.

This area of nutrition science is also under intense review, right now, with scientists re-examining decades of cardiovascular (CVD) and fat intake research since cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently issued an advisory against higher intakes of saturated fat, including coconut oil. This advisory is based upon a review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in which CVD risk is reduced by ~ 30% for those who consume less saturated fat and substitute with polyunsaturated fat.

End of the story? CNN just covered this issue too and found that it is much more complicated.

  • There is some evidence that coconut oil consumption raises the ‘good’ HDL (high density lipoproteins) cholesterol, and this may help mitigate the negative impact of saturated fat on cardiovascular disease. However, this is just speculation at this point.
  • One very small study of 40 women found that coconut oil supplements may be associated with less abdominal obesity; however, this was a small study and other diet, exercise, or lifestyle factors were not controlled or investigated as part of the study.
  • Also, many studies include coconut intake in a variety of forms—whole, shredded, sweetened shredded, and milk—in addition to oil making it hard to compare study results.

Will there be a study next week that says that coconut oil is healthy and not associated with CVD? The honest answer is perhaps. Just remember, one new study does not necessarily change advice that may come about by looking at a large group of studies, like the AHA advisory.

Beyond that, I am not a fan of focusing on just one food or ingredient. We eat lots of different foods each day, and it’s the overall pattern of intake that is important. So many other diet constituents are vital to a life well lived, such as, lean meat, fish, nuts, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fats (i.e., olive and canola oil, avocado), and moderate alcohol intake. Coconut oil may eventually get a clean bill of health, but for now, the science supports consumption of olive oil and canola oil over coconut oil.

Happy and healthful eating,

Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN

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