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Is Coconut Oil Better Than Other Fats and Oils?

"Coconut oil is better than butter and trans fats but not as good as liquid vegetable oils," says Penn State University cardiovascular nutrition researcher Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD.

Mozaffarian agrees that coconut oil is better than partially hydrogenated trans fats and possibly animal fats.

"But even though coconut oil is cholesterol-free, it is still a saturated fat that needs to be limited in the diet and if you are looking for real health benefits, switch from saturated fats to unsaturated fats by using vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn, or olive oil," says Kris-Etherton, a member of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines advisory committee and Institute of Medicine's panel on dietary reference intakes for macronutrients (which include fats).

Fats are an important part of a healthy diet, but the trick is to eat enough fat, not too much, and choose the best fats as often as possible. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that fats make up 20% to 35% of total calories and saturated fats less than 10%. And even though coconut oil is liquid, the Dietary Guidelines consider it a solid fat that they recommend Americans reduce, along with added sugars.

As long as you keep the amount of saturated fat to less than 10% of calories, the choice is up to you.

"Foods that contain coconut oil are not usually nutrient powerhouses so it is better to choose your saturated fats from foods that are nutrient-rich, like cheese and lean protein," says Connie Diekman, Med, RD, author of The Everything Mediterranean Diet.

Where Is The Evidence?

Coconut oil has some heart-friendly fatty acids (myristic) but more heart-unfriendly fatty acids (lauric), says Roger Clemens, DrPH, spokesman and incoming president of Institute of Food Technologists and member of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines committee.

A meta-analysis of 60 studies evaluated the effects of individual fats on risk of coronary artery disease. A few studies looked at coconut oil and found the combination of fatty acids improved the ratio of total cholesterol: HDL (good) cholesterol but they also raised LDL (bad) cholesterol.

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