Because coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, it isn't always thought of as being heart-healthy. However, saturated fat in coconut oil differs from the saturated fat found in high-fat meats that can increase blood cholesterol. Several studies have examined the effects of coconut oil on heart disease.
Saturated Fat in Coconut Oil
In general, consuming too much saturated fat increases your total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, notes Colorado State University. Coconut oil isn't the only source of saturated fat in your diet. Other sources include palm kernel oil, meats, and full-fat dairy foods. However, coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides, which are saturated fats that may not negatively impact your heart-disease risks like other types of saturated fat.
Effects on Heart Disease
A study published in 2010 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reports that moderate amounts of medium chain triglycerides (abundant in coconut oil) don't increase your heart disease risks. Another study published in 2011 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that coconut oil is associated with higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol that helps protect you against heart disease. A study published in 2009 in the journal Lipids reports that women who ingested 30 milliliters, or about 6 teaspoons, of coconut oil daily for 12 weeks showed improvements in HDL levels and LDL/HDL ratios.
Effects on Body Weight
Some studies show coconut oil may aid in weight and fat loss, which can lower your heart-disease risks if you're overweight or obese. The study published in 2009 in the journal Lipids showed that taking 6 teaspoons of coconut oil daily reduced waist circumference in women with abdominal obesity. The study published in 2010 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reports that study subjects following weight-loss diets who consumed medium-chain triglycerides, abundant in coconut oil, lost more weight than study subjects who ingested olive oil instead. However, coconut oil is fairly high in calories, so consuming it in excess can hinder weight loss.
Though rich in saturated fat, coconut oil may not negatively impact your heart disease risks like other types of saturated fat. While adding coconut oil to your diet isn't a guarantee you'll improve your blood cholesterol or lose weight, it can improve your heart health when eaten in place of saturated fat found in high-fat meats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest getting 6 teaspoons of oils in your diet daily when eating 2,000 calories per day, and 7 teaspoons of oils daily when following a 2,500-calorie meal plan.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com.