Medical evidence emphasizes that some types of fat are good for your heart. Rather than focusing on total cholesterol levels, modern medicine looks at different types of cholesterol in your blood, because some forms of cholesterol reduce the risk of heart problems while others raise it. Coconut oil gets mixed reviews on whether it benefits your heart or increases the risk of heart disease, depending on which website you read.
Most coconut oil comes from the dried fruit, although oil produced from fresh coconut, sometimes is called virgin coconut oil.
Coconut oil contains mostly saturated fat, with 13.6 grams of fat in 1 tablespoon of oil, reports the USDA National Nutrient Database. It has 117 calories from fat. Less than 7 percent of daily calories should come from saturated fat, the American Heart Association reports. If you consume an average 2,000 calorie diet, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil provides 6 percent, or almost all of your daily allowance.
Your body manufactures saturated fats in the amounts needed, so extra dietary saturated fat is unnecessary and can increase the risk of heart disease, the Harvard School of Public Health reports. Coconuts are one of the few plant foods that supply saturated fat; most saturated fat comes from animals and dairy products. Coconut oil has higher saturated fat levels than butter or lard, according to a report from Harvard Health Publications. Unsaturated fats contain omega-3 fatty acids, which your body can’t make and must come from your diet.
All fats raise high-density lipoprotein levels, or HDL, the “good” fat, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Unsaturated fats also lower LDL levels, which makes them a better dietary choice. A study done on rats, published in the September 2004 "Clinical Biochemistry," found that coconut oil decreased LDL, but similar human studies still need to be done.
Proponents of coconut oil say that the type of saturated fat it contains boosts metabolism and is quickly burned for energy. These claims have not been proven and remain anecdotal. Until studies prove otherwise, treat coconut oil as any other saturated fat and limit the amount, as you would with any other saturated fat. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that while coconut oil has been found to raise good cholesterol levels, but it is also found to raise bad cholesterol levels, so you should be cautious of using it until more studies are in.
- The Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Oil, Coconut
- Clinical Biochemistry: Beneficial Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil on Lipid Parameters and In Vitro LDL Oxidation
- The Harvard School of Public Health: Shining the Spotlight on Trans Fats
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- Harvard Health Publications: Ask The Doctor: Coconut Oil
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Coconut Oil