A cardiologist says coconut oil in plant-based foods can spike cholesterol levels, even if you think you’re eating healthy

a person in a grocery store aisle reading a food label

Not everything in the health food aisle is good for your heart — many vegan processed foods contain lots of coconut oil and can raise cholesterol levels, according to a cardiologist.Aja Koska/Getty Images

  • Eating more plant-based foods can lead to a healthier diet, but too much processed food can backfire.

  • A cardiologist said plant-based processed foods often contain coconut oil which can raise cholesterol levels.

  • Coconut oil has a higher saturated fat than butter, which can make it a less healthy choice for your heart.

Seemingly healthy plant-based foods can actually raise your cholesterol levels, thanks to a surprising source of saturated fat, according to a cardiologist.

Dr. Harmony Reynolds, a cardiologist at NYU Langone, said she noticed a pattern with her patients who ingested more coconut oil, a common ingredient in processed vegan food.

“I learned to ask patients about this because I was seeing multiple patients whose LDL cholesterol was going up because they introduced coconut oil-containing foods,” she told Insider.

Reynolds said coconut oil is among the foods he almost never ate as a cardiologist, since it’s high in a type of fat called saturated fat that can increase your LDL cholesterol levels. Sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, too much LDL cholesterol is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Checking labels can help you become aware of how much coconut oil you might be consuming. You should balance your saturated fat intake, keeping it to less than 6% of your total calories, according to the American Heart Association guidelines.

Coconut oil can show up in unexpected places, like vegan baked goods, dairy substitutes and frozen meals

Coconut oil is often used as a butter substitute in vegan baking and cooking, and is popular because it provides a fat source that’s solid at room temperature to help give foods the right texture.

It shows up in a huge range of vegan products from cookies and pastries, to dairy-free versions of cheese, ice cream, or coffee creamer, and even in pre-made meals like frozen burrito bowls or stir-fry kits.

But it’s a misconception that coconut oil is a healthier alternative to butter or seed oils like canola. since it contains more saturated fat than butter. It’s also high in calories, which can be a disadvantage if you’re trying to watch your weight — one tablespoon adds about 120 calories.

One reason coconut oil is sometimes considered healthy is that it’s high in a type of fatty acids called medium-chain triglycerides, which some evidence suggests can be absorbed more quickly than other fat sources, potentially boosting weight loss, energy, and brain health, although more research is needed.

Overall, it should be used sparingly in your diet, if at all, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Research suggests olive oil is a healthier choice, with some evidence it can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Many of the vegan foods also contain coconut oil ultra-processed, which means that they contain additives like salt, sugar, and fat, and often have fewer nutrients and fiber. Research suggests eating too much processed food can increase the risk of illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

While no single food can make or break your health, dietitians recommend limiting processed foods, even if they’re plant-based.

“There’s a lot more great choices out there right now, but you can be a vegan on a diet soda and potato chips,” registered dietitian nutritionist Wendy Bazilian previously told Insider. “That’s vegan, and it could even have a beautiful splashy label that says it, but you will be at risk for some nutritional deficits with that.”

Bazilian and other dietitians recommend following a plant-based diet rich in whole foods like fruit, veggies, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Evidence suggests the benefits of a healthy plant-based diet include adding years to your life, reducing risk of chronic illnesses, and improving mood and energy.

Read the original article on Insider

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