Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Is coconut oil good for you?

Q. Would you please comment on the current craze for coconut oil? I now have friends who, based on ads and popular books, are taking coconut oil several times a day.

A. Coconut oil has lots of saturated fats. Coconut oil, like all types of saturated fat, raises LDL cholesterol, which is not healthy. On the other hand, unlike most saturated fats, the type in coconut oil also raises HDL cholesterol, which is healthy. So it has some bad and some good effects on cholesterol.

The problem is that we don't have evidence as to whether regular use of coconut oil actually affects heart health negatively or positively. All we know is that it has both good and bad effects on cholesterol. But we also know that vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat, lower LDL and increase HDL—both good effects. So coconut oil may be less unhealthy than butter or lard, but it is probably less healthy than vegetable oils like olive or soybean oil. It's fine to use it now and then, but I wouldn't use it on a regular basis.

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