Why Coconut Oil Is Not as Healthy as You Think

Here's what nutritionists have to say about the American Heart Association's surprising declaration.

June 23, 2017
coconut oil
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This article was originally written by Emily Laurence for Well+Good.

Coconut oil is a healthy girl's pantry—and beauty—staple. So last week when the American Heart Association released a statement telling people to stop consuming it for better cardiovascular health, eyebrows were raised. It's like someone saying avocados or sweet potatoes are bad. How could it be true? 

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More: 5 Ways to Use Coconut Oil (Other Than Cooking)

The medical researchers who studied coconut oil, which led to the AHA's statement, say it's high in saturated fat, even more than butter, beef fat, and pork lard--which, for the record, they all considered unhealthy, too. "Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of cardiovascular disease, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil," its statement reads, in part.

"Coconut oil has not been shown to lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, and people are using it in huge and excessive quantities."

But it's worth noting that their claim is at odds with other scientific research that links coconut oil's fatty acids with weight loss. And hey, butter can actually be good for you, too. What's with all the mixed signals? I reached out to nutritionist Tracy Lockwood, RD to weigh in on the AHA's claims, and she agreed with them: "Coconut oil has not been shown to lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, and people are using it in huge and excessive quantities." Her advice is to go for unsaturated fats instead. "The data has proven time and time again how unsaturated fats can lower the risk for heart disease," Lockwood says. "The Mediterranean Diet is the way to go."

More: The Top 10 Inflammation-Fighting Foods

Not all experts believe saturated fat is bad, though. Many say it's only unhealthy when consumed with foods high in sugar and carbs, which it often is. (Proponents of the Ketogenic Diet would surely agree.) In fact, "the [federal] dietary guidelines shifted in 2015, and there's no longer a recommended cap on the intake of dietary fat," says Minimal Wellness nutritionist Rebecca Shern, RD.

 

While experts are still at odds about how much coconut oil is healthy to consume, there's one point that pretty much everyone agrees on: Using it on your skin and hair is genius.

If you want to stock up on pantry items that are definitively healthy, check out these vegan staples and these alternative flours.