I'm often asked if coconut oil is good for heart health and my answer is a resounding yes! The ordinary coconut—known for its sweet milk, great fiber and ability to conk people on the heads in Marx Brothers movies—can do your heart good, and so much more.
Yet, despite the heart-health benefits of coconut oil, many people shun it because it’s high in saturated fat, which is true. Even the American Heart Association raised doubts about coconut oil since it can raise cholesterol. But, as I’ll explain in a minute, coconut oil is heart-healthy, and the confusion lies in misinformation about cholesterol and heart health.
Coconut Oil, Cholesterol & Your Heart
While coconut oil does raise cholesterol, most of what it raises is the “good” HDL cholesterol that your body needs. HDL is the helpful cholesterol that helps to remove oxidized LDL cholesterol from your arteries.
Coconut oil also raises LDL cholesterol, but not the small, inflammatory LDL cholesterol that can clog your arteries. Instead, it helps to boost levels of the large, “fluffy” LDL cholesterol your body needs for immune health, brain function, and more. In fact, low levels of this helpful form of LDL cholesterol can be harmful to your health.
Another important heart health benefit of coconut oil is that it helps to reduce inflammation, and inflammation (not cholesterol) is the real cause of heart disease. It does that by inhibiting inflammatory mediators in the body, reducing levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is your body’s marker of inflammation.
What’s also important to note is that while coconut oil contains saturated fat, it’s made up of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA)—not the long-chain fatty acids found in most oils. So, it's heart healthy. In fact, those MCFAs have an effect similar to omega-3 fatty acids, making blood platelets less sticky.
Beyond heart health, coconut oil has other important benefits as well. The MCFAs in coconut oil can neutralize and kill many microorganisms, bacteria, and viruses that are responsible for periodontal disease, herpes, and bladder infections. Plus, it can help to improve memory.
How to Cook with Coconut Oil
Not only is coconut oil delicious, it’s also one of the safest oils to use in cooking since it’s less vulnerable to oxidative stress and free radical formation, even at high temperatures.
You can substitute coconut oil in any dish that calls for oil. You can use it to sauté vegetables, seafood, free-range organic chicken, and more. Just remember not to heat it to the point of smoking. Any oil, including coconut oil, can produce toxic byproducts when overheated.
Coconut oil can also be substituted in any baked dish that calls for butter. You can also use it as a rub on chicken before adding spices for a delicious, flavorful coating. Plus, you can mix coconut oil with olive oil and use it as a dressing on salads or vegetables. Any way you use olive oil, it can be an important, flavorful addition to your heart-healthy diet.