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Is Coconut Oil bad for my heart!? (Re: That USA Today Coconut Oil Article)

I got all of your concerned and confused messages about that article from USA Today on how the American Heart Association released a report saying that coconut oil isn’t healthy and never has been….UGH! This is the world we live in, and I’m so glad so many of you are on the defense!

I CALL BS.

And have a few things to say, per usual. 😉

This is also a very personal topic for me, and today being Father’s Day it’s quite timely.

This morning my father and I crossed the finish line of a race together…and 10 years ago he was laying flat on a hospital bed getting wheeled into major unexpected heart surgery. (And he’d been the picture of health, having always eaten “right” and exercised a lot.)

When the hospital dietitian told him to keep eating low-fat, low-cholesterol, avoid butter, avoid coconut oil… I was confused and ANGRY. (Wasn’t that what landed him on the operating table in the first place!?)

Since then I’ve spent the past decade digging into the research and truths on topics of heart health, cholesterol and saturated fat and with that comes —you guessed it — COCONUT OIL.

Heart Disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States. And, it drives me crazy that “heart health” still remains one of the most confusing topics in the realm of nutrition!

(Thanks, outdated textbooks. Thanks, food pyramid. Thanks, research studies sponsored by companies who hope to sway the outcome in their favor. THANKS AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION. You’ve really caused a lot of confusion. Your advice has backfired and people are SICKER because of it.)

The GOOD NEWS is the science is publicized that debunks all the old myths. (For example, we now know that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol are not linked to heart disease!).

A few considerations on that article from USA Today:

(Note that anything in quotes and/or italics is from the USA Today article.)

THEY HAVE NO NEW EVIDENCE.

This is not “news” because they have no new evidence! They did a REVIEW on PAST studies (or as they say “existing data”), which we already knew were full of dog poo. The American Heart Association has NEVER had a good reason to tell us to skimp on HEART-HEALTHY saturated fats like our beloved coconut oil. The data shows that heart disease is a result of too much sugar and processed carbohydrates ¹,²—not too much saturated fat.³ (See this article for a thorough explanation, research and more sources on this.)

Who cares if coconut oil can increase LDL!?!!

This is their argument for why we should avoid it. (“Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.”)

They always love to use the fact that coconut oil can increase LDL to support their argument, but it doesn’t help their case at all because high LDL isn’t necessarily bad!

We’ve been given an oversimplified and incomplete view of LDL cholesterol, or as it’s commonly referred to as “the bad cholesterol”. LDL cholesterol is made up of two different particle sizes: big fluffy type A profile particles (these are healthy and healing!) and small dense, type B particles (these are harmful and inflammatory).

Your LDL cholesterol number isn’t much help without knowing the whole makeup of the LDL and therefore, how much of it is the harmful kind. Labeling all LDL as bad and driving that total LDL number to the ground is NOT the simple solution for heart health that we’ve been told. You can find out the full breakdown of your LDL by getting a NMR Lipoprofile test (and you can even order it on your own through places like this!). Unfortunately, if your total LDL number is considered “high,” many doctors will firmly suggest a drug without ever running this test and finding out your LDL particle size. NOT COOL.

All of that said, a high total cholesterol number is NOT a good predictor for assessing heart attack risk (,). In fact, the research is showing the opposite to be true.

Did you know that over half of all heart attacks occur in people with “normal” cholesterol levels? (Less than half of them have high cholesterol!)

The real problem (and what actually promotes heart disease) is inflammation, which you can learn about here.

…But coconut oil is FAT!

“Frank Sacks, lead author on the report, said he has no idea why people think coconut oil is healthy. It’s almost 100% fat.”

EXACTLY. That’s why we sing its praises! We’ve known for quite some time now that the old textbook way of doing things doesn’t work. (Perhaps you’ve learned this the hard way, too?)

Fat isn’t just good for your heart—it’s good for your brain (the brain is made up of >70% fat!), and your waistline (fat slows the absorption of sugar which keeps your blood sugar levels stable which causes your pancreas to secrete your fat-burning hormone called glucagon — yay! For more on metabolism, click here.)

Opt for vegetable oil instead of coconut oil!?

(Said Sacks.)

WTH!? NO, DON’T DO THAT. Vegetable oils (which aren’t even made from vegetables by the way,) are inflammatory and one of the worst things for your heart (and waistline.) Flat out NO.

Cliffs Notes:

Nothing new in this article. It’s no news flash at all. Coconut oil is STILL good for you—SO good for you, and their review of past stuff that’s already been debunked isn’t noteworthy. (For more on this, check out this post, “7 Things Your Doctor Didn’t Tell You About Heart Health.”)

I use coconut oil for everything, everyday —all the way from frying my morning eggs to slathering it on my legs and arms when I get out of the shower before bed. And I encourage you to fall in love with it, too!

Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are a type of fat that are digested quickly and known for their great energy and metabolism-boosting effects (that’s why studies show that coconut oil helps with weight loss. ,) It’s also been shown to be antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, and can promote healthy thyroid function, blood sugar regulation, and help fight off yeast, candida, and fungus. And, because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it can reduce inflammation which is always a good thing. (It’s at the root of most diseases and plays a big role in stubborn weight loss, too.)

Oh, and warning: You may experience enhanced “brain power” after using coconut oil since MCTs can have a pretty strong positive effect on cognitive function (consider MCTs a super fuel for your cells, brain and waistline!).

Also, as is the case with most things, the quality of the coconut oil makes all the difference. Make sure you’re picking up unrefined, organic, virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil.

(Rule of thumb: unrefined things are always better for you than refined things.)

The refined varieties may be cheaper, but are typically treated with bleaches, deodorizers and have gone through a chemical hydrogenation process that has changed the molecular structure of the oil and rendered it a trans fat. No thanks!

Also note that it doesn’t always clarify on the front of the jar so the best way to find out if it’s refined or unrefined is to flip it over and check out the ingredients list. (You’re looking for the words “unrefined”, “virgin”, or “extra virgin.”)

Another nice thing to know: coconut oil has a shelf life of at least two years! This means you can buy it in bulk (I get this one) and because of its versatility, if for some odd reason you get sick of using it for one particular purpose, you can easily find a different way to use it up!

Don’t discriminate.

I’m an advocate of variety and NOT a fan of discrimination, so while you can keep on lovin’ on coconut oil (and I hope you do!), I also suggest that you do the same for other healthy fats like butter, avocado, heavy cream, olive oil, nuts, seeds and the other coconutty things like coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut butter… 🙂

Get more truth bombs, K?

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P.S. Here’s my dad and I during and after our race today! So thankful he quit following the terrible advice we’ve been given on heart health, and embraces real foods and healthy fat, like coconut oil! 🙂

Happy Father’s Day!


  1. Johnson, R. K. et al. “Dietary Sugars Intake And Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From The American Heart Association”. Circulation 120.11 (2009): 1011-1020.
  1. Jakobsen MU, et al. “Intake Of Carbohydrates Compared With Intake Of Saturated Fatty Acids And Risk Of Myocardial Infarction: Importance Of The Glycemic Index. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016.
  2. Siri-Tarino, P. W et al. “Meta-Analysis Of Prospective Cohort Studies Evaluating The Association Of Saturated Fat With Cardiovascular Disease”. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 91.3 (2010): 535-546. 
  3. Schilling S, et al. “Plasma Lipids And Cerebral Small Vessel Disease. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017.
  4. Schatz, Irwin J et al. “Cholesterol And All-Cause Mortality In Elderly People From The Honolulu Heart Program: A Cohort Study”. N.p., 2017. Print.
  5. Sachdeva, Amit et al. “Lipid Levels In Patients Hospitalized With Coronary Artery Disease: An Analysis Of 136,905 Hospitalizations In Get With The Guidelines”. Ahjonline.com. N.p., 2016.
  6. Scalfi L, et al.”Postprandial thermogenesis in lean and obese subjects after meals supplemented with medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides – PubMED- NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017.
  7. Seaton TB, et al. “Thermic Effect Of Medium-Chain And Long-Chain Triglycerides In Man. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017.
  8. Jon J. Kabara, Joseph P. Truant. “Fatty Acids And Derivatives As Antimicrobial Agents”. PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., 2017. 

 

Leave a Comment
  • Thank you so very much for making it plain that coconut oil is good for us. I saw the latest “news” a few days ago and simply rolled my eyes.

  • Kamie Stoner

    Amen!
    ~Dietitian Kamie 😉

  • minimags

    Thank you for this article Cassie as some of my friends were confused about the other ‘information’ out there. The proof of the pudding is in the eating as the saying goes and your father is doing remarkably well on this ‘fayre’!