Harvard Men's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: The coconut craze

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Q. I have seen many products promoting the health benefits of coconut oil or coconut water. Is there any proof of those benefits?

A. Coconut oil proponents claim that it boosts the body's immune defenses and supercharges metabolism, among other things. Preliminary research suggests that coconut oil may have a healthy effect on your cholesterol profile, but it's too soon to be sure.

Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, which is a higher percentage than butter (64% saturated fat) and beef fat or lard (40%). Saturated fat, whether from coconut oil or other sources, raises the "bad" LDL cholesterol associated with heart disease—and also raises "good" HDL cholesterol. However, it's not known whether coconut oil's mix of good and bad influences on cholesterol reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease over the long term. Until we know that, any claim that coconut oil is more heart-healthy than other fats is speculative.

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