Coconut oil is not as healthy as people think it is, with an American Heart Association advisory revealing the popular oil is shockingly high in saturated fats.
In its Advisory on Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease the peak heart organisation found 72% of the public and 37 % of nutritionists rated coconut oil a “healthy food”.
But their review of evidence finds the product is comprised of 82 % saturated fat (about half lauric acid) and raises LDL at rates no different to beef fat, butter and palm oil.
“A recent systematic review found 7 controlled trials…that compared coconut oil with monosaturated or polyunsaturated oils. Coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol in all 7 of these trials, significantly in 6 of them, said the advisory published last week in Circulation.
“Clinical trials that compared direct effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD) of coconut oil and dietary oils have not been reported.
“However, because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil”.
Coconut oil has enjoyed a rise in popularity, touted to yield wide-ranging health benefits from assisting weight loss to preventing cancer.
According to the AHA the disconnect between lay and expert opinion “can be attributed to the marketing of coconut oil in the popular press”.
Overall, there was widespread confusion in the community over the role of saturated fats in CVD due to the ‘discordant” conclusions of widely-reported meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised controlled trials (RCTs).
These included one from 2014 that suggested saturated fat was not associated with CVD.
But the authors of the advisory found this study was flawed because it compares people on diets high in saturated fats with those on diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugar – also associated with CVD.
The AHA’s review of evidence concluded that swapping polyunsaturated vegetable oil for saturated fat in the diet reduced CVD by about 30 % , similar to the rate achieved by statins.
The evidence was stronger for polyunsaturated fats (found in canola, corn, soybean and peanut oils) over monosaturated fats (in olive, avocado and high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils), they wrote.
Meta-analyses that evaluated the effect of replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat “found significant benefit, whereas replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, yielded no significant benefit to CVD risk”.