HEART UK's Statement on Coconut Oil

HEART UK – The Cholesterol Charity wishes to correct the misleading claims being made in the press (Sunday Times, Style 14 February; Guardian, 23 February) that are claiming coconut oil helps lower blood cholesterol and have even suggesting taking coconut oil as a dietary supplement.  Coconut oil, contains about 85% saturated fatty acids mainly as lauric and myristic acid which potently raise both total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol more than other fatty acids (1,2,3,4).  Two tablespoons of coconut oil provides about 24g SFA about compared with maximum intake recommended of 20g and 30g for women and men respectively by NHS Choices.

HEART UK supports official advice from government 5.6 and international agencies (7)  which have carefully reviewed the evidence from controlled trials and recommended that the saturated fatty acid intake should be restricted to no more than 10% of food energy.

HEART UK advises people who want to lower their blood cholesterol to avoid using coconut oil in cooking and certainly not use it as a dietary supplement. Creamed and desiccated coconut contain around 60-70% coconut fat should also only be consumed occasionally or in small amounts as part of an overall healthy diet.

Notes

A heart healthy diet is one that is rich in vegetables, pulses, fruits, nuts and whole grains. Modest portions of lean meat, poultry, white and oily fish, soya foods, low fat dairy products and vegetable based spreads and oils play an important role in a heart healthy diet, being low in saturated fat and rich in a range of other essential nutrients.  Foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols, soluble fibres from oats, barley and pulses, nuts and soya foods all have the ability to help lower cholesterol if eaten in significant quantities and regularly.  See HEART UK’s Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan (UCLP) for further dietary information about optimum cholesterol lowering.          

Key sources of saturated fat include – fatty meats and meat products, full fat dairy products, butter (ghee), and processed food such as ice-cream, cakes and biscuits which are made with fats rich in saturated fats such as lard, coconut and palm oils.

Key sources of unsaturated fat which contain lower amounts of saturated fatty acids include – oily fish, vegetable oils (e.g. those labelled vegetable, olive, sunflower and rapeseed), avocado, nuts, spreads and salad oils based on vegetable oils.

Saturated fats of carbon length C12-C16 – Lauric (C12) Myristic (C14) and Palmitic (C16) raise total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels.  Lauric has the most potent effect followed by myristic and palmitic acid. Coconut oil is rich in both lauric and myristic acids.

People wishing to find out more about FH should contact: HEART UK on the helpline - 0345 450 5988, or visit www.heartuk.org.uk


References   

1. Sundram K, Hayes KC, Siru OH (1994) Dietary Palmitic Acid Results in Lower Serum Cholesterol Than Does a Lauric-Myristic Acid Combination in Normolipemic Humans. Am J Clin Nutr 59, 841-846.
2. Temme EHM, Mensink RP, Hornstra G (1996) Comparison of the effects of diets enriched with lauric, palmitic or oleic acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins in healthy men and women.  Am J Clin Nutr 1996; 63: 897-903.
3. Zock P L, de Vries J H, Katan M B (1994) Impact of Myristic  versus palmitic acid on serum lipid and lipoproteins levels in health men and women Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 1994;14:567-575.
4. Sanders TA (2013) Reappraisal of  SFA and Cardiovascular Risk. Proc Nutr Soc, 72(4), 1-9.
5. Department of Health (1994) Nutritional Aspects of Cardiovascular Disease. Report on Health and Social Subjects No 46. HMSO. London.
6. European Food safety Authority (EFSA) 2010 Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for Fats EFSA Journal 2010; 8(3):1461.
7. WHO/FAO (2010) Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition. Report of an Expert Consultation. Food and Nutrition Paper No 91, Food and Agriculatural Organisation, Rome.