Impact of oils on cardiovascular disease - Joseph Agu / by Mark Runza

Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women

This is the title of a paper published earlier this year by Khaw and colleagues in the British Journal of Medicine.

High saturated fat intake is generally associated with higher blood levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), a known risk factor for coronary heart disease. However, this effect isn’t consistent. One reason this is the case comes down to structure of the fatty acids (e.g. short, medium and long chain fatty acids), which are known to affect their function/metabolic pathways in the human body.

As such, the authors recruited 91 healthy men and women aged 50-75 via the BBC website, and split them into three groups. The individuals in each group were instructed to consume 50g of either extra virgin coconut oil, butter, or extra virgin olive oil every day for four weeks.

For reference, virgin coconut oil is around 92% saturated fat, whereas butterfat is around 60% saturated. EV olive oil is predominantly unsaturated (~75%).

As you can see from the image, the main finding of this study was that butter and coconut oil, which are predominantly saturated fats, appear to have different effects on blood lipids. As such, metabolic markers and health outcomes may vary not just according to the general classification of their main component fatty acids as saturated or unsaturated, but also according to different profiles in individual fatty acids. For example, the predominant saturated fatty acid found in butter is palmitic acid, compared to lauric acid in coconut oil.

Additionally, with regard to the health outcomes, there doesn’t seem to be any overall advantage either way when comparing the consumption of olive oil or coconut oil.

The authors conclude, “These findings do not alter current dietary recommendations to reduce saturated fat intake in general but highlight the need for further elucidation of the more nuanced relationships between different dietary fats and health.”

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