Managing Heart Risk

The Truth About Coconut Oil

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By Deirdre Mattina, M.D.

Contrary to popular belief, coconut oil is not a “good fat.” In fact, coconut oil had become a common ingredient in seemingly better-for-you versions of baked goods and fried foods. However, a recent report from the American Heart Association debunks this urban legend with cold, hard scientific data.

It turns out that coconut oil is actually worse for you than lard or butter. It has 82 percent saturated fat, compared to butter at 63 percent and beef lard, which is 50 percent. Foods that are high in saturated fats raise your risk for heart problems.

The American Heart Association report included a review of seven clinical trials examining the relationship between coconut oil and heart disease. Findings from all seven studies were the same: Coconut oil raises levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the blood. This form of cholesterol contributes to buildup of fatty substances (called plaque) in the walls of your arteries.

What does this mean? Basically, eating foods that contain coconut oil can increase your risk for heart problems. Fatty plaque buildup causes the artery walls to harden and narrow, making it difficult for blood to deliver the oxygen and nutrients your organs need. Over time, an artery in your head, neck or heart may become blocked or burst open (rupture), causing a heart attack or stroke.

To make matters worse, just a little coconut oil is all it takes to max out your daily saturated fat. One tablespoon has 11 grams, which is close to the 13-gram limit recommended by the American Heart Association. Staying within these dietary guidelines is one of many ways to stick to a heart healthy diet.

Based on these findings, I would put coconut oil on the ‘use sparingly’ shelf in your pantry. A healthy diet should include fat, but options with less saturated fat, such as olive and vegetable oils, are better for your heart. If one of your favorite foods calls for coconut oil, limiting your portion size can help you stay within the recommended daily limit of saturated fat. You can also focus on eating foods with heart-healthy fats like olive oil, avocados and nuts.

Maintaining a healthy diet is one of many things you can do to take care of your heart. Read more about managing heart health.

How healthy is your heart? Take the heart risk quiz to find out. Then, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a heart expert at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Written By:

Deirdre Mattina, M.D.

Deirdre Mattina, M.D., is a Senior Staff Cardiologist at Henry Ford Hospital and Director of the Women’s Heart Center. She began her medical training at the University of Michigan Medical School and went on to complete her Internal Medicine Residency at Columbia University in New York City and, finally, her Cardiology Fellowship at Henry Ford Hospital. Dr. Mattina is board certified in Internal Medicine, General Cardiology, Echocardiography and Nuclear Cardiology. While she cares for patients with all types of cardiac conditions and risk factors, she has a special interest in preventive cardiology, women’s health and healthcare disparities.

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