Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Is coconut good or bad for the heart?

Ask the doctor

Is coconut good or bad for the heart?

Q. I have heard that coconut is bad for the heart and that it is good for the heart. Which is right?

A. Viewed in isolation, coconut and coconut oil can't be considered heart-healthy foods. A 2-ounce piece of fresh coconut contains more than 13 grams of saturated fat — nearly two-thirds of the recommended daily limit for the average person. Ounce for ounce, coconut oil delivers more saturated fat than butter, lard, or margarine. Feeding studies in humans, monkeys, and rabbits show that coconut oil substantially elevates LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Viewed in context, though, coconut may not be so bad. Some food companies are testing coconut oil as a replacement for the once-ubiquitous partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which contain hefty amounts of dangerous trans fats. Both coconut oil and trans fats increase LDL. But while trans fats reduce protective HDL, coconut oil has a powerful HDL-boosting effect.

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