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Fat and Oil: The Truth About Their Link to Cholesterol and Heart Disease

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Coconut Oil and Olive Oil

Can coconut oil be healthy with all that saturated fat?

"There is evidence that the mix of saturated fatty acids in coconut oil may not be as harmful as once believed, but there is evidence to the contrary, too. It is likely that coconut oil will prove to be less harmful than once believed, but very unlikely that it will emerge as competition for olive oil or canola oil as one of the most healthful options. It may, however, make a good alternative to trans fat in commercial foods," says Katz. Kenney, however, believes that the mere suggestion that coconut oil is safe is naive, saying, "Coconut oil is extremely high in the three saturated fatty acids proven to raise LDL-C and promote atherosclerosis."

Bowden is more optimistic. "Coconut oil -- provided it's 100 percent organic and extra virgin (like Barlean's Coconut Oil, for example) -- is a superfood. It suffered from a bad rap due to two concerns: One, it's high in saturated fat, and two, the early coconut oil sold in the '70s was an inferior product, high in trans fats (definitely an unhealthy oil)."

"The fat in coconut oil is largely lauric acid, a particularly healthy fatty acid that has anti-viral and anti-microbial properties and is helpful for the immune system. It also contains the fatty acid caprylic acid, which is well known as a 'yeast' fighter," says Bowden.

Bottom line: Probably not as bad as once thought, but many experts are still adamant that it will raise bad cholesterol and lead to heart disease. Also, like any oil, it's high in calories: One tablespoon is about 120 calories.

Is it true that you should not heat olive oil?

According to Katz, "Unsaturated oils are less tolerant of heat than saturated oils. When unsaturated oils are heated, some trans fat can form. This is the basis for claims that unsaturated oils such as olive oil are unsafe to cook with." But the claims are unfounded. "The degradation of oils occurs mostly at the 'smoke point,' the temperature above which the oil gives off smoke. This temperature is reached in deep fryers but is rarely reached with home cooking."

Bottom line: It's safe, but don't deep fry in it.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder and editor of, the health and fitness network, and author of The Diet Detective's Calorie Bargain Bible. Copyright 2008 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved.

Reprinted with permission from, September 2008.



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