When it comes to trendy superfoods everyone loves, coconut oil is right up there with kale and almond butter. You might put it in your smoothies and baked goods, and maybe even on your body or in your hair. The oil has been thought to help prevent acne, tooth decay, Alzheimer’s, and yeast infections. But according to a recent report from the American Heart Association (AHA), you might want to lay low on this trendy oil, as least when it comes to cooking with it.
AHA looked at the most recent studies surrounding the consumption of various types of fat and how they affect heart health, and strongly concluded that “lowering intake of saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, will lower the incidence of CVD [cardiovascular disease],” the report stated. One section of the paper was dedicated specifically to coconut oil, and the review wasn’t so great. Essentially, the authors say to stop eating it because it’s so high in saturated fat.
Although the report conflicts with mainstream beliefs about the health benefits of coconut oil, it’s on par with previous warnings from the organization about saturated fats. AHA suggests consuming no more than 13 grams a day, which is roughly equivalent to 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. You can imagine how quickly that can add up and how easy it would be to go above that limit when you think about other foods you might eat throughout the day.
The saturated fat issue isn’t black and white, though. Although plenty of studies show a link between saturated fats and heart disease, others have suggested that margaric acid, a type of saturated fat, is protective against heart disease. Plus, some experts say butter might not be all that bad, and one recently published study suggests that saturated fat doesn’t contribute to clogged arteries. And as we reported in Everything You Need to Know About Coconut Oil, “The saturated fat in coconut oil is mostly lauric acid, a medium-chain saturated fatty acid that appears to have a more neutral effect on heart health when compared to longer-chain saturated fats found in meats and dairy products,” says Wendy Bazilian, R.D., author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet.
Still, George Welch, M.D., a cardiologist with Manhattan Cardiology, agrees with AHA. “The misconception that coconut oil is healthy is likely due to a surge of marketing efforts from the coconut oil industry, or because people are confusing coconut oil benefits with those of coconut water,” he theorizes.
Most experts agree that it’s best to consume saturated fats in moderation. When possible, choose canola or olive oil, which lower bad cholesterol levels or LDL, over tropical oils like coconut or palm, says Dr. Welch.