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  • Writer's pictureAku Energija

Diet myth busted- Coconut Oil does not improve health

Clinical trials don’t support the public’s positive perception of coconut oil, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis suggests. The study, published in Circulation, found that compared with other vegetable oils, coconut oil increases low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C)—the “bad” kind that ups cardiovascular disease risk—while offering no improvements to weight, blood glucose, or inflammation markers.

Why This Matters

Saturated fat raises LDL-C levels. Despite its high saturated fat content, coconut oil has attained a sort of cult status among home chefs over the past decade. In a 2016 New York Times–commissioned survey, 72% of the public said coconut oil is a healthful food. Tellingly, only 37% of nutritionists in the survey agreed.

“This represents a remarkable success in marketing by the coconut oil and related industries calling coconut oil a natural, healthful product, despite its known action to increase LDL cholesterol, an established cause of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular events,” Frank M. Sacks, MD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in an editorial on the new analysis.

If using coconut oil instead of other vegetable oils increases “bad” cholesterol, frequently swapping it in for them could put the public’s heart health at risk.

What We Already Knew

According to the review’s authors, clinical trials comparing the blood cholesterol effects of coconut oil and nontropical vegetable oils have had mixed results. Coconut oil appeared to lower LDL-C levels in some of the studies, while other trials showed the opposite. Some research also suggests that the plant fat might quell inflammation, control blood glucose, and even help people to lose weight.

Two years ago, European researchers published a review of 54 trials comparing different dietary fats’ effects on blood lipids. They concluded that coconut oil did not raise LDL-C more than other vegetable oils. The analysis included only 6 coconut oil trials, though, and wasn’t designed to assess its other purported benefits.

Tropical Diets Are Different

The authors also discussed another common argument: certain indigenous populations have low heart disease rates despite plentiful coconut consumption. Researchers have pointed out that these groups have different eating patterns than the average Western diet, with more heart-healthy fish and less processed food. Plus, these traditional diets feature raw coconut flesh or pressed coconut cream, which are lower in saturated fat than coconut oil.

The Bottom Line

From the authors: “Despite the rising popularity of coconut oil because of its purported health benefits, our results raise concerns about high coconut oil consumption. Coconut oil should not be viewed as healthy oil for cardiovascular disease risk reduction and limiting coconut oil consumption because of its high saturated fat content is warranted.”

From Greenland: “In the lipid world, this issue has been thought to be settled a long time ago. It is reassuring to see that even as more data accumulated, the overall message really remains unchanged. Coconut oil offers no proven health benefits compared to other cooking oils and seems detrimental on important blood lipids. As such, the prudent approach would be to avoid it in comparison to other cooking oils that do not have these effects.”

Reference:

  1. Abbasi J. Coconut Oil’s Health Halo a Mirage, Clinical Trials Suggest. JAMA. 2020;323(16):1540–1541. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.5186

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