Over a year since research out of the American Heart Association said coconut oil isn’t healthy, dietitians are still telling people to avoid eating much of it.
Coconut oil is more than 80 percent saturated fat — far beyond butter (63 percent), beef fat (50 percent) and pork lard (39 percent), according to the American Heart Association. It has “no known offsetting favorable effects,” the AHA said in a past advisory stating coconut oil could actually increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, a cause of cardiovascular disease.
The data wasn’t exactly new, but it did ignite a firestorm of conversation about coconut oil, which in recent years has been marketed as a health food and even a solution for weight loss in some circles.
Ginger Hultin, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and registered dietitian, told USA TODAY she still doesn’t recommend people add coconut oil to their diets but says a small amount shouldn’t hurt. By small, she says less than a tablespoon a day. She doesn’t endorse heaping spoonfuls into smoothies or coffee.
A tablespoon of coconut oil is about equal to the amount of saturated fat adults should eat in one day, according to AHA recommendations. Luz Varela, director of communications at AHA, said the AHA has held the same position on saturated fats for more than 30 years and has published no updates since last year’s advisory.
Most medical professionals recommend instead reaching for oils high in monounsaturated fats (including olive oil and avocado oil) and those high in polyunsaturated fats (such as canola oil).
A narrative review of research on coconut oil published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Nutrition in March said more studies are needed to determine the oil’s effect on weight, cardiovascular disease, treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, bone loss, or blood sugar levels. Researchers did say there is limited evidence that applying coconut oil to eczema, cavities and hair might have some benefits, but even that requires more research.
Some in the health community say to avoid coconut oil altogether. In a video posted over the summer, an adjunct professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health called it “pure poison.”
But, advocates of coconut oil say avoiding saturated fat might not necessarily be good, because as a 2015 BMJ review suggested, some people fill the void with sugar, white flour and empty calories. Some fat is important to help bodies absorb nutrients from other foods.
Read more at usatoday.com