Is Coconut Oil *Actually* Bad for You? A Dietitian Weighs In

We know Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it, but a new advisory has us questioning all our favourite influencers

Coconut oil: An image on a tan background of a cracked coconut with leaves behind it and a piece of coconut in front

(Photo: iStock)

It may make a great moisturizer, but coconut oil is definitely not doing great things for your heart. That’s according to the American Heart Association (AHA), who recently released a report describing the health risks associated with the trendy oil, advising people not eat or cook with it.

Understandably, a lot of people flew off the handle on social media. Have our influencers been lying to us? Wasn’t coconut oil supposed to be a superfood?

The advisory highlighted research that showed 72 percent of Americans believed coconut oil was a “healthy food,” but only 37 percent of nutritionists would classify it that way. It’s a tough nut to crack, so in an effort to figure out what is the truth, we reached out to Carol Dombrow, a registered dietician with the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Dombrow’s not a fan, especially if you subscribe to the more is better approach. “We don’t want people to start using coconut oil almost like a supplement thinking it’s such a good thing that will make you healthier,” says Dombrow.

Despite stories that describe the oil as a healthy cooking alternative or a way to boost energy, the AHA advises against the use of coconut oil because of its high concentration of saturated fat.

“Coconut oil is almost all saturated fat,” confirms Dombrow. “Saturated fat increases bad cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease—that’s why nutritionists are saying it’s not a health food.”

Coconut oil is comprised of 82-percent saturated fat, which is higher than beef or butter and more than 11 times the saturated fat found in canola oil. As Dombrow explains, saturated fat increases the body’s amount of “bad cholesterol” (a.k.a. low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol). Too much LDL cholesterol can block arteries, which leads to heart disease.

The AHA also highlighted that coconut oil has “no known offsetting favourable effects”—so despite what some headlines may say, it’s basically upping your risk with no reward.

“There’s research and there’s research and that’s where the poor consumer is at everyone’s mercy and especially media’s mercy to interpret this information correctly,” says Dombrow. “The information that the American Heart Association has recently published is very well-researched research with multiple studies cited.” That means, she’s inclined to agree with it.

Instead of using coconut oil, Dombrow recommends eating mono and polyunsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts and fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel. For cooking, she suggests using olive, canola or sunflower oil, all which have dramatically lower levels of saturated fats. According to the AHA advisory, making these simple swaps can reduce the risk of heart disease by around 30 percent.

“My recommendation is if you want to use coconut oil, use it in very small amounts if it will make a difference to a recipe,” says Dombrow. “Otherwise, I think you’re much better with your mono and polyunsaturated fats.”

Cool, so I guess we’ll be using coconut oil exclusively as a beauty product from now on.


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