Is coconut oil bad for your cholesterol?
I had a few discussions friends about coconut oil and how healthy it really is. As a plant-based advocate, I noticed how is largely used to make vegan treats, or advertised as a healthier option in restaurants. I always had mixed feelings about, there is a lot of confusion so I decided to look at some medical research and find real facts that explain if coconut oil is good for you or not.
All kinds of oils are liquid fats.
Is fat good for you?
Yes, because you need fats in your diet. It helps to absorb some essential nutrients and produce important hormones. But this does not mean that all the fats are the same.
There are four kinds of fats:
Saturated fats are in all the meats like lamb, pork, poultry and their derivate such as lard, cream, butter, cheese etc. These saturated fats increase blood cholesterol with higher risks of cardiovascular diseases.
Trans fats are as bad as saturated fats or even worse. Are the so-called “vegetable oils”. The ones usually used for deep-fry foods because inexpensive and can be used multiple times. Trans fats are also in margarine and in most cakes, cookies, frozen pizzas and many other packaged foods. These unhealthy fats are also increasing your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are the best fats that you can get. Are contained in nuts, seeds, avocados, olives as they provide the right ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 which reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce bad cholesterol.
Coconut oil is 80-90% saturated fat, butter is about 65%, olive oil has 14%.
In 2017 they did a short term study, over the course of 4 weeks, comparing the consumption of butter, extra virgin coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil. People that participated in this research study had to implement 50 grams of butter, coconut oil or olive oil in his daily diet.
This is the results of the study
“LDL-C concentrations were significantly increased on butter compared with coconut oil (+0.42, 95% CI 0.19 to 0.65 mmol/L, P<0.0001) and with olive oil (+0.38, 95% CI 0.16 to 0.60 mmol/L, P<0.0001), with no differences in change of LDL-C in coconut oil compared with olive oil (−0.04, 95% CI −0.27 to 0.19 mmol/L, P=0.74). Coconut oil significantly increased HDL-C compared with butter (+0.18, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.30 mmol/L) or olive oil (+0.16, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.28 mmol/L). Butter significantly increased TC/HDL-C ratio and non-HDL-C compared with coconut oil but coconut oil did not significantly differ from olive oil for TC/HDL-C and non-HDL-C. There were no significant differences in changes in weight, BMI, central adiposity, fasting blood glucose, systolic or diastolic blood pressure among any of the three intervention groups”
This study shows that even if the butter has less saturated fats than coconut oil, it is still worse than coconut oil and olive oil. But I had some more doubts about the coconut oil and how safe is to use it especially on a plant-based diet where no other forms of saturated fats are used (butter, meats etc.)
In this other two studies published on PubMed, it is shown the negative effect of coconut oil and increases of LDL cholesterol.
The bottom line is that oils are in general of little or no nutrition, we should not seek for nutrients in the liquid oily form of certain foods. For instance, eat olives instead of olive oil, eat whole coconuts flesh and whole avocados. Little use of "healthy" oils, especially on a whole food plant-based diet where saturated fats are nearly inexistent, cause no harm.
In order to get the fats that you need, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and coconut flesh are the best choices.
If you have a healthy diet, using coconut oil in moderation for baking or do a stir-fry is not going to clog your arteries, but is no miracle food as advertised. It would be better to stop adding it every morning to your bulletproof coffee, smoothies or nut bars. Reserve it for your cheat day or use it for your skin and hairs.