The diet heart hypothesis has driven nutrition recommendations and policy for decades. Recent studies have questioned the hypothesis and sparked great controversy over the assumed connection between saturated fat intake and heart disease. Recent evidence suggests that dietary patterns should be the focus of dietary recommendations, not any one food or nutrient. Furthermore, to classify foods as simply saturated fat, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats is to ignore the many other potential nutrients and health benefits. Coconut is classified as a saturated fat and therefore listed as a food to limit to reduce heart disease risk. However, different saturated fats, medium-chain or long-chain, act differently metabolically and thus have different health effects. The medium-chain fatty acids predominate in coconut are absorbed differently and have been associated with several health benefits, including improvements in cognitive function and a more favorable lipid profile compared to longer chain fatty acids. Coconuts provide a healthful source of saturated fats and should not be considered the same as foods with longer chain saturated fats. Future recommendations should take this research into consideration. It is the purpose of this review to discuss the research regarding the connection between saturated fat intake, specifically coconut consumption, and health, while focusing on dietary patterns and lifestyle behaviors.
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