Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that coconut oil is healthy, according to a recent review by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Coconut oil is often touted as a healthy alternative to other fats, but researchers found its effect on blood cholesterol is nearly as bad as beef fat, butter and palm oil. The AHA review pointed out that coconut oil raised LDL or bad cholesterol in 7 out of 7 trials conducted by researchers.

Saturated fats that raise bad cholesterol are common in meat, full-fat dairy products and other tropical oils. Coconut oil had a higher concentration of saturated fat at 82 percent than butter at 63 percent and beef fat at 50 percent. “Saturated fat can raise LDL-cholesterol in the blood, which then has the potential to build up in the wall of arteries,” said Dr. Tom Barringer , the co-medical director of Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte. “Continued accumulation over time can eventually block blood flow, which increases risk for a heart attack.”

For heart health, the AHA continues to recommend replacing saturated fats with poly- and mono-unsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil and canola oil. Other unsaturated oils associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease are soybean, corn and peanut oils.

What should people eat to promote heart health?

Based on changes in blood fats including low-density lipids, high-density lipids and triglycerides, the AHA estimates that when dietary saturated fat is replaced by equal amounts of unsaturated fat cardiovascular disease should be reduced by 30 percent, a similar effect to what is achieved by using cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins.  

Polyunsaturated fats appear to lower the risk of heart disease the most, followed by monounsaturated fats – another interesting observation seen in various studies, Barringer said. Soybean, corn and sunflower oil are oils that contain predominantly polyunsaturated fats.

Olive, canola, peanut and sesame oil are examples of oils which contain predominantly monounsaturated fats. Other sources include avocados and peanut butter.

The advisory issued by the association listed oils based on their compositions:

  • Canola oil: 7 percent saturated/63 percent monounsaturated/28 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Coconut oil: 82 percent saturated/6 percent monounsaturated/2 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Corn oil: 13 percent saturated/28 monounsaturated/55 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Butter: 63 percent saturated/28 monounsaturated/55 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Lard: 39 percent saturated/45 percent monounsaturated/11 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Olive oil: 14 percent saturated/73 percent monounsaturated/10 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Palm oil: 49 percent saturated/37 percent monounsaturated/9 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Peanut oil: 17 percent saturated/46 percent monounsaturated/32 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Soybean oil: 16 percent saturated/23 percent monounsaturated/58 percent polyunsaturated.
  • Sunflower oil: 10 percent saturated/20 percent monounsaturated/66 percent polyunsaturated.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and accounted for nearly 800,000 deaths in 2011.

How's your heart health? Novant Health has launched a communitywide campaign called the 10,000 Healthy Hearts Challenge with a goal to educate 10,000 people about their heart health by 2018. Take the online heart health risk assessment , which analyzes cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes and body mass index. Then, tag five friends on social media using #NHHealthyHearts to spread the word. Once you accept the challenge, look for helpful wellness tips, recipe ideas and stress management reminders sent to your inbox to manage your heart health.