Some people are *big* fans of cooking with coconut oil—and they aren’t afraid to shout it from the rooftops.
And the reasons for their love can range from its tasty flavor, to its usefulness as a traditional butter/oil alternative, to the many health benefits that we’ve long associated with using it in cooking. (72 percent of Americans believe it’s a “healthy food,” according to a study.)
But despite its generally high-regarded status among the health-conscious, the American Heart Association says this belief comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of coconut oil, which it says in fact should not be considered a health food.
According to PEOPLE, a new statement by the AHA seeks to clear up this misconception about coconut oil. The anti-coconut oil declaration points to the simple fact that the product is rich in saturated fats—which scientists at the AHA say is not good for you, or your heart, no matter what you might have heard. Taking into account the fact that some 82 percent of the fat found in coconut oil is saturated (while olive and canola oils contain 14 and 7 percent saturated fat, respectively) it’s a pretty damning proclamation for the coconut oil lovers of the world.
About the large number of people who already believe that coconut oil is inherently healthy, the paper’s lead author Dr. Franks Sacks says, “There’s no basis at all for that, and in fact [with this paper] we were trying to figure out where those claims come from.”
But what exactly does this study mean? Should we toss out our coconut oil and give up on it forever? Speaking with The Feast, registered dietitian nutritionist Lexy Penney gave us a little clarity, and reassurance, on how exactly we should proceed.
“First of all, we need to take the fear out of food,” she explained. “Whenever a study or article comes out warning people strongly for or against a particular food, it concerns me the way the material is presented.” She explained that knee-jerk reactions, like immediately cutting all coconut oil out of your diet, aren’t beneficial, and that rather than saying “don’t eat this, or do eat this” we should focus on incorporating healthy foods into our diet, but also on finding peace with our choices in an otherwise diet-obsessed culture.
As for whether or not we should cut it back on coconut oil, Penney suggests going for moderation instead. “My suggestions both professionally and personally would be to keep using coconut oil in moderation, but to focus more on nutrient-dense fat sources that are high in the more health-promoting types of fat.” As alternatives, she suggests using avocado or olive oils, which contain more mono and polyunsaturated fats and help maintain good cardiovascular health.
And to all you coconut oil lovers out there feeling heartbroken, there are still benefits to using coconut oil. Penney explains: “Coconut oil has a high content of lauric acid, which has some good health benefits…such as being antimicrobial, along with the fact that it doesn’t break down at high temperatures, it boosts metabolism, and it helps raise good cholesterol or HDL.”
So while coconut oil might not be quite the shining example of health food we all thought, it seems unlikely that you need to strike it completely from your shopping list.
Unless, of course, you’ve been a coconut oil hater from the start.
To each their own.
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