How Does Coconut Oil Affect Cholesterol?

Will the saturated fats in coconut oil raise your cholesterol? More to the point, does this matter? Nutrition Diva gives us an update on the latest research.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
3-minute read
Episode #271

Well, since my original episode on coconut oil, there has been one new study in humans. Researchers in Malaysia found that LDL cholesterol increased 8% on a diet rich in coconut oil vs. a diet rich in olive oil. Now, Malaysia is a major exporter of coconut oil so when the researchers wrote up the results for publication, they didn't mention cholesterol in the title or abstract, choosing instead to focus on parameters where the coconut oil diet had no ill effects. 

Is Saturated Fat Really Bad for Your Heart?

coconut oilIn any case, in terms of cholesterol and lipid metabolism, the saturated fats in coconut oil seem to affect the body exactly the way you would expect them to. But lately, this whole idea that saturated fat causes heart disease is starting to come under increasing scrutiny. Recent reviews have failed to find a strong link between saturated fat intake and disease risk (or mortality), and the medical establishment is slowly starting to rethink its position on this. 

For me, the frustrating thing is that researchers and policy makers insist on looking at nutrients in isolation, without enough consideration of the context in which they are eaten. After all, if I tell you to eat less of something, you're probably going to eat more of something else instead. And what you replace a food with is just as important as what you're cutting out.  

Is your effort to reduce saturated fat causing you to eat more sugar? I'm not sure that's a net gain.  Are you using coconut oil to replace trans fat-laden hydrogenated vegetable oils? That's probably a step in the right direction!

Does Coconut Oil Have a Place in a Healthy Diet?

I don't see why a healthy diet can't include some coconut oil. But I wouldn't recommend consuming coconut oil as your primary source of fat. Monounsaturated fats (such as those found in olive oil and avocado) and polyunsaturated fats (such as those found in flax and fish) also have clear health benefits that I wouldn't want you to go without.

See also: 

How Much Fat Should You Eat?

What's the Optimal Balance of MUFAs, PUFAs, and Saturated Fats?

Images courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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