Coconut oil has been a recent source of controversy in the media. Over the past couple of years, it has been marketed as a “healthy” product, with supporters claiming that its saturated fat levels aren’t actually related to increased levels of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Unfortunately, research has shown that this is not the case.
When consumed in excess, coconut oil, just like any other saturated fat, can still have a negative impact on your health.
In recent studies compiled by the American Heart Association, researchers showed that the saturated fat levels in coconut oil had exactly the same effect on LDL cholesterol as saturated fats found in other foods such as butter, beef fat and palm oil*. Too much LDL cholesterol raises your risk for heart issues, including heart attacks, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
While it is easy to point out a single nutrient as the culprit for increased health risks, it’s important to note that there are often other factors at play – and that one nutrient alone won’t make or break your health in the long-run.
For example, many foods that contain concentrated amounts of saturated fats are also low in other nutrients. This means they do not work to provide high levels of nutritional benefits, and may contribute to additional health issues.
These foods include ice cream, desserts made with butter, and chocolate. These are not only high in saturated fat, but are also high in calories and sugar, and low in fibre and other essential nutrients. Consuming these types of food in excess will lead to additional strain on the system, and can contribute to weight gain, increased blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and more.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to mitigate these risks.
There are many heart-healthy swaps that are easy to make to help cut back on saturated fat intake and incorporate more nutrient-dense options into your diet. Examples include:
- Having avocado slices instead of butter and cheese on a sandwich
- Having plain yogurt and berries for a snack instead of a granola bar or cookie
- Using Greek yogurt or nut butter in place of butter or lard in baking
- Using avocado oil instead of coconut oil or butter for cooking
- Asking for plain steamed vegetables and skipping the mashed potatoes at restaurants
- If you’re cooking with coconut milk, using a light version
So, while coconut oil might not be the “miracle health cure” we were all hoping for, at the end of the day it’s important to remember that it is not a poison either when minimally used (or when used in small amounts). If you are enjoying whole foods that are minimally processed the majority of the time, you are already taking one step in the right direction on the path to improved health.
Overall, it’s your complete dietary pattern that really matters. Incorporate more nutritious options in your diet, including foods that have more fibre, antioxidants, and vitamins & minerals (such as nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits) and enjoy coconut oil (or any other treat) in moderation!
*Full details of the studies conducted by the American Heart Association can be found here.