Cholesterol is an animal product. Plants do not contain cholesterol except in trace amounts. This includes coconut.
But my doctor said coconut is high in cholesterol and I must avoid it to reduce my risk of heart disease.
It is possible he is misinformed or you misunderstood. Coconut is high in saturated fat. Saturated fat is not the same thing as cholesterol.
Saturated fat, along with cholesterol, is frequently blamed for heart disease. Yes coconut is high in saturated fat. It even has more of the stuff than butter.
Fatty Acid Composition of Various Oils:
But let’s unpack that. The saturated fat in coconut oil is NOT the same as in animal fat (not that you should be running in fear from animal fat, but that’s another story).
Most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is in the form of medium-chain fatty acids which do not circulate in the bloodstream like other fats do, but rather are directly channeled to the liver where they are immediately converted into energy, thus avoiding fat buildups.
Note also that almost 50% of the fatty acid content of coconut oil is lauric acid which is a main component of human breast milk. Another 7% of the fatty acids are capric acid which stimulates anti-viral activity in the body.
If coconut is so great, why did my doctor say to avoid it?
Coconuts have fallen victim to bad science which was helped along by the marketing efforts of competing products (in particular the soy oil and corn oil campaigns pushing the idea that coconut was healthy and their hydrogenated oils were).
Once upon a time, some very questionable research by a Dr. Ancel Keys was published which suggested that there was a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease. Watch this video for the background on how the data was cherry picked:
Keys was able to convince a sizable part of the US public that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat would reduce blood cholesterol and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Once this became widely accepted (despite protestations from many members of the scientific community) foods high in saturated fat got put on the blacklist including coconut and eggs.
It is increasingly accepted today that this advice was wrong and that these foods have been part of a healthy human diet for thousands of years. However beliefs die hard and old school doctors are unlikely to contravene the old prescriptions.
Coconut oil is, in fact, good for you. It has factors which strengthen the immune system and may even confer neurological benefits which may slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.