Most of us are familiar with a handful of “health” foods that we’ve either heard about on the news or seen friends eat — almond milk, agave nectar, granola.
But many of these items aren’t actually as good for you as you might assume.
One such trendy food item is coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat, a type of fat that most nutritionists agree is unhealthy. Essentially, its ratio of “bad” to “good” fats is the opposite of what experts recommend.
The American Heart Association recently updated its guidelines on fats to include the suggestion that people avoid saturated fats. Although these fats are primarily found in things like butter, beef, and other animal products, they can also be found in some plant products including palm and coconut oil.
If you’re looking to curb your intake of saturated fats, plenty of alternatives exist. Olive oil has essentially the opposite ratio of bad to good fats, but is virtually identical to coconut oil in its calorie and overall fat content. While a tablespoon of olive oil has just one gram of saturated fat, the same amount of coconut oil has 12 grams.
The AHA says the high saturated fat content in animal products like butter and coconut oil can raise levels of unhealthy cholesterol. Several studies have shown that swapping saturated fats with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated ones is linked with a number of positive health outcomes, from a reduced risk of death to decreased incidences of heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease. Aside from the folks at the AHA, other experts have also recommended avoiding saturated fats because they have been linked with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Still, some smaller studies have suggested that some people on strict diets may be able to safely consume more fats — including saturated ones — than people who eat a regular amount of carbs. This includes people on a strict low-carb diet like the Atkins Diet who eat very few foods that contain bread, potatoes, or rice.
If you’re like most people, however, and your diet includes carbohydrates, fats, vegetables and fruits, olive oil is likely your best bet for a healthy oil.
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