Does Coconut Oil Belong in Your Kitchen?

Angela Charlton R.D.-N.'s picture
By Angela Charlton... on June 20, 2017

Do you use coconut oil to replace unhealthy fats in your diet? If so, the American Heart Association (AHA) has news for you. In its latest advisory, the AHA clarifies that coconut oil is not a healthy fat and should not be used as a substitute by people trying to reduce their consumption of saturated fats.

We know that all need fats in our diets, and in moderation, healthy fats provide multiple benefits:

  • Essential fatty acids support brain development, manage inflammation and help your blood clot
  • Fats help make the nutrients you consume more “bio-available” by transporting them through your bloodstream to the organs that use them
  • Fats contain more than twice as much energy than proteins or carbohydrates do

However, when consumed in excess, fats can lead to weight gain. And consuming unhealthy fats increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Facts About Fats
There are three types of dietary fats: saturated, unsaturated and trans.

  • Saturated fats come from animal products such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin and dairy products made from whole or two-percent milk. Saturated fats are also found in tropical oils—including coconut oil—and cocoa butter. These fats increase your body's levels of LDL cholesterol and your risk of cardiovascular disease. The AHA recommends reducing saturated fat to no more than about 5 percent of your total daily calories, or a maximum of 10 grams per day.
     
  • Unsaturated fats (both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) are found in fish such as salmon, trout and herring; avocados; olives; walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as olive and canola oils. Unsaturated fats can help to reduce LDL cholesterol, thereby lowering your risk of heart disease.
     
  • Trans fats, also known as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils,” are found in many fried foods and baked goods such as pastries, pizza dough, pie crust, cookies and crackers. Trans fats not only raise your LDL cholesterol, they also lower your HDL, or “good” cholesterol, further contributing to heart disease.

So what does that mean for your diet? 

Fat should make up no more than 35 percent of your daily calories. For a healthy person eating about 2,000 calories a day, that is about 78 grams.

The majority of the fat in your diet should come from unsaturated fats. These are found in fish, nuts and liquid vegetable oils such as olive and canola oil, but not coconut oil. At 82 percent saturated fat, coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol as much as butter or beef fat.

The 2,000-calorie example in this article may not be right for you, and your dietary needs may differ. If you have more questions about your health or the fat in your diet, contact your primary care provider.

And if you have a full jar of coconut oil left over in your kitchen, move it to the bathroom. It is a very effective moisturizer! 
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Angela Charlton, R.D.-N., specializes in oncology nutrition at Carilion Clinic and is a regular contributor to Carilion Living. For general questions about nutrition, consult our Ask the Dietitian blog. Consult your provider if you have specific dietary concerns.