Use vegetable or olive oil in place of coconut oil

The New Zealand Heart Foundation is advising Kiwis to continue using unsaturated plant oils rather than switching to coconut oil as their main cooking oil.

Coconut oil has recently gained popularity as a result of heavy marketing in both the US and Australasia. There is widespread misinformation about the health benefits of coconut oil, with claims of it being a ‘superfood’.

In light of this, the NZ Heart Foundation recently commissioned Dr Laurence Eyres, New Zealand’s leading specialist in oils and fats, to prepare an academic paper called ‘Coconut Oil and the Heart’.

Dr Eyres has summarised the existing literature on coconut oil and its impact on heart health. He found nothing which disputes the fact that coconut oil raises cholesterol.

He concludes that the claims for coconut oil’s healthiness simply don’t stack up.

“Traditionally, coconut oil hasn’t been recommended because it is extremely high in saturated fat. This advice remains, despite the large number of marketing claims to the contrary.”

He says switching to coconut oil is likely to lead to less favourable lipid profiles and potential increased risk of coronary heart disease.

“Consumers who are using a lot of coconut oil due to the current fad would be well advised to either limit its use, or to blend in some unsaturated cold-pressed oil such as olive, avocado or canola oil. Although it may be a better choice than butter, coconut oil cannot be recommended as a suitable alternative to non-hydrogenated vegetable oils.”

Dr Eyres says the wide range of research often quoted to support the use of coconut oil is largely based on animal studies or interpreted from research on medium-chain triglyceride (MCTs) oils. But the triglycerides in coconut oil cannot actually be classed as MCTs, which means this research is not relevant.