Coconut oil has been the subject of numerous health claims that have run the gamut from touting it as a superfood to deriding it as "pure poison." When it comes to heart health, opinions about this popular food vary widely.
Harvard Professor Karen Michels sparked debate recently in a German lecture posted to YouTube calling coconut oil "pure poison." Michels' criticism stems from coconut oil's high concentration of saturated fat, which could clog arteries and raise "bad" cholesterol levels.
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The American Heart Association also has warned about the high concentration of saturated fat in coconut oil and recommended replacing coconut oil with polyunsaturated fats like corn, soybean and peanut oil.
In a study for the BBC2 series "Trust Me I'm a Doctor," researchers at the University of Cambridge found that coconut oil might lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, despite having more saturated fat than butter or lard, BBC News reported in January.
The study found no increase in LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, levels among those who ate coconut oil and a 15 percent increase in HDL, or the "good" cholesterol that has been linked with lowering risks of heart disease.
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A January article in Healthline touted the heart health benefits of coconut oil, pointing to studies that have linked the food to increases in HDL and suggested it may help turn the bad LDL cholesterol into a less harmful form.
Melissa Majumdar, the senior bariatric dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, took a measured approach, according to Healthline.
“I don’t like to call food good or bad, let alone poison,” she said, “but coconut oil is not the saving grace that we think it is.”
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