Skip the Coconut Oil 

Trendy fat is not necessarily good for your heart

By Graziella Steele

Contrary to popular belief, coconut oil is not healthy, according to a recent review by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Coconut oil is often touted as a healthy alternative to other fats, but researchers found it’s as bad as beef fat, butter, and palm oil. The study showed that coconut oil raised LDL or bad cholesterol in 7 out of 7 trials conducted by researchers.

Saturated fats that raise bad cholesterol are common in meat, full-fat dairy products, and other tropical oils. Coconut oil had a higher concentration of saturated fat at 82 percent than butter at 63 percent and beef fat at 50 percent. Saturated fat clogs arteries and is a major cause of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Ara Maranian, a cardiologist at Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Cardiology – Manassas said he’s not sure why coconut oil was ever deemed a healthy dietary fat. “This latest study from the AHA confirms what we have known for a while, that oils high in saturated fats are less healthy than polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats,” he said.

For heart health, the AHA continues to recommend replacing saturated fats with poly- and mono-unsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil and canola oil. Other unsaturated oils associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease are soybean, corn, and peanut oils.

Maranian offered this advice on what people should consume for heart health: “A heart-healthy diet should be high in fruits and vegetables, low in saturated fats and, in general, carbohydrates should be watched closely to avoid weight gain. This should all be done in conjunction with regular aerobic exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.”

The AHA found when dietary saturated fat was replaced by unsaturated fats, cardiovascular disease was reduced by 30 percent, a similar effect to what is achieved by using cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that people already diagnosed with heart disease can stop their medicinal therapy just based on dietary changes. “In patients who already have coronary artery disease, prior stroke, diabetes or other forms of vascular disease, they need to be on a statin as the benefits seen with these drugs go beyond just lowering LDL,” Maranian said. “I think that what this study shows is that diet is just as important to maintaining good heart health as some of our best life-saving drugs, but in some patients should not replace them.”

Another interesting finding from the study: polyunsaturated fats appear to lower the risk of heart disease the most, followed by monounsaturated fats.  Soybean, corn and sunflower oil are types of polyunsaturated fats. Other sources include some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds, tofu and soybeans.

Olive, canola, peanut and sesame oil are examples of monounsaturated fats. Other sources include avocados and peanut butter.

The advisory issued by the association listed oils based on their compositions:

  • Canola oil: 7 percent saturated/ 63 percent monounsaturated/ 28 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Coconut oil: 82 percent saturated/ 6 percent monounsaturated/ 2 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Corn oil: 13 percent saturated/ 28 monounsaturated/ 55 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Butter: 63 percent saturated/ 28 monounsaturated/ 55 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Lard: 39 percent saturated/ 45 percent monounsaturated/ 11 percent polyunsaturated
  • Olive oil: 14 percent saturated/ 73 percent monounsaturated/ 10 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Palm oil: 49 percent saturated/ 37 percent monounsaturated/ 9 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Peanut oil: 17 percent saturated/ 46 percent monounsaturated/ 32 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Soybean oil: 16 percent saturated/ 23 percent monounsaturated/ 58 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Sunflower oil: 10 percent saturated/ 20 percent monounsaturated/ 66 percent polyunsaturated.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and accounted for nearly 800,000 deaths in 2011.

How’s your heart health? Novant Health UVA Health System has joined the Novant Health community-wide campaign called the 10,000 Healthy Hearts Challenge with a goal to educate 10,000 people about their heart health by 2018. Take the online heart health risk assessment, which analyzes cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes and body mass index at Then, tag five friends on social media using #NHUVAHealthyHearts to spread the word. Once you accept the challenge, look for helpful wellness tips, recipe ideas and stress management reminders sent to your inbox to manage your heart health.

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