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    Posted on Jun 20, 2017

    Please Take A Deep Breath: Coconut Oil Is Not The Worst

    Look, don't drink it by the gallon but also it's not all of a sudden poisonous.

    You've probably heard recently that coconut oil is actually bad for you.

    Mental Floss / Chicago Tribune / Huffington Post / Miami Herald

    All this foofaraw is in response to a recent health advisory issued by the American Heart Association (AHA).

    And the health advisory is itself the result of a study published in the AHA's journal Circulation.

    This study (which you can download in full here) was actually an analysis of existing research, in which discussion of coconut oil takes up about a half page of the 18-page study. The authors conducted the review to clear up confusion "among patients, their physicians, and the public" about the relationship between dietary saturated fat and risk of cardiovascular disease.

    This is all very confusing because isn't coconut oil the elixir of the heavens? The chosen cooking oil of god himself? And also all the healthy people we all follow on Instagram?

    @low_carbkitty / Via instagram.com

    If you were under the impression that coconut oil was really healthy — or at least not super unhealthy — you're not alone. Last year BuzzFeed Health reported on a survey about people's perceptions of different foods' healthiness that found that about 70% of people thought that coconut oil was healthy, while only about 40% of nutritionists agreed.

    So, what is the actual deal with coconut oil?

    Twitter: @WellieBoyce

    To get to the bottom of this, BuzzFeed Health reached out to registered dietitians Abby Langer of Abby Langer Nutrition and Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition.

    It turns out there are a few things to know that actually complicate the "omfg news flash: coconut oil is really bad for you" conclusion (and probably got lost in the mix as the study was reported).

    First of all, the study is not presenting new evidence.

    Marekuliasz / Getty Images

    It's important to keep in mind that this study is an analysis of existing research (aka stuff doctors and dietitians and researchers already knew). In fact, BuzzFeed Health has even reported on one of the study's conclusions — that people eating the standard American diet should reduce intake of saturated fats (those found in (red meat, cheese, milk, and tropical oils like coconut and palm oils) and replace them with unsaturated fats (like those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, plant-based oils, and fatty fish).

    Langer explained via email that the significant takeaway from this study is less about the effects of coconut oil and more about correcting the misconception that coconut oil is a "health food."

    "We already know all of this...Coconut oil is a fat like all other fats; it's not a health food. It doesn't miraculously have some life-changing effect on our bodies..."

    It's your overall diet that really matters. It's unlikely that your relationship to any one food will do you in.

    @jescoxnutritionist / Via instagram.com

    "It's about your entire dietary pattern, not any one food," St. Pierre said via email. When I asked St. Pierre if he'd rather people eat vegetables with coconut oil vs. not eat vegetables at all, he said: "I would MUCH rather you eat some veggies mixed with a tablespoon of coconut oil than no veggies at all. A broad mix of fats, including some saturated fats, is a good choice."

    Another important thing to remember: the review did not look at clinical trials that compare the direct effects of coconut oil on cardiovascular disease.

    giphy.com / Via giphy.com

    Langer explains that this means that the authors are assuming that because coconut oil is a saturated fat (and saturated is suspected to elevate risk of CVD), that coconut oil will elevate CVD risk, too, even though there are no studies to prove that coconut oil does in fact do this.

    Having said that, study co-author and professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein told us via email that the study's recommendation to minimize saturated fats in the diet and replace them with unsaturated fats does in fact extend to coconut oil.

    "Coconut oil is a plant oil but it falls into a special class, termed tropical oils. Tropical oils are high in saturated fat. Hence, the best advice we can give is to replace coconut oil with other plant oils."

    In conclusion, coconut oil is probably not going to be the thing that kills you.

    http://@angel.moniquee / Via instagram.com

    "Should you avoid it at all costs? No. Should you drop spoonfuls into your smoothies and eat it like dessert? No. You wouldn't do that with olive oil — which we know has a good effect on our blood cholesterol — so, don't do it with coconut oil," Langer says.

    But should you be aware of the potential impact of coconut oil on your health (in the context of your entire diet and your own specific health profile)? Yup, for sure. Just as you should be aware of the impact of anything you eat on your health.

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