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Featuring Tamara Rhodes, MS, RD, LDN

Few foods have gained as much public interest and popularity in the last several years as coconut oil. Many Americans have begun to use coconut oil in cooking, baking, and even as a potential remedy for skin conditions such as psoriasis. Most recently, a trend of “Bulletproof Coffee” has ensued. It is estimated that about 83% of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee daily, and 65% of coffee drinkers report that they add sugar, cream, milk, and/or artificial sweeteners to their cup o’ joe. Proponents of “Bulletproof Coffee” encourage blending 1 tablespoon of coconut oil with 1 teaspoon of butter in place of cream or milk. This addition adds about 160 calories and 17.5 grams of total fat, 15.5 of which is saturated fat.

The rage behind coconut oil is due to some research findings that its use may be in beneficial in preventing the onset and progression of brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have also found coconut oil to raise HDL (od) cholesterol levels. Such therapeutic effects are attributed to the unusual blend of short and medium-chain fatty acids characteristic of coconut oil. However, the same studies have also determined coconut oil to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, a key biomarker of cardiovascular disease. This is likely due to its very high saturated fat content.

Fats are a critical component of a healthy diet, but the trick is to eat the right amount of fat (20-35% of total daily caloric intake) and to choose heart-healthy fats. Heart-healthy fat sources are of the mono- and polyunsaturated varieties, which include foods such as nuts, seeds, peanut and almond butter, avocados, and olive oil. Saturated fats, on the other hand, tend to be solid at room temperature, mostly animal-based, and are notorious for their detrimental effects on heart health.  It is recommended that saturated fat comprise less than 10% of an individual’s total daily calories, and less than 7% if a person has a family or personal history of cardiovascular disease. The 15.5 grams of saturated fat provided in 1 cup of “Bulletproof Coffee” contribute nearly 140 calories, which equates to 6.9% of a 2,000 calorie diet. In short, an entire day’s limit of saturated fat could be consumed within minutes of waking up in the morning!

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Additionally, an individual who switches from drinking 1 cup of black coffee to 1 cup of “Bulletproof Coffee” per day would inadvertently take in an extra 58,400 calories per year, which would likely manifest into almost 17 pounds of weight gain. Lower-calorie, more heart-healthy alternatives to blend into your coffee include:

  • 1 tablespoon skim or 1% milk=5 calories, <0.1 gram of saturated fat
  • 1 tablespoon soymilk=15 calories, 0.1 gram of saturated fat
  • 1 tablespoon fat-free coffee creamer (original or flavored)=10-30 calories, 0.1-0.4 grams of saturated fat
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat coffee creamer (original or flavored)=10-25 calories, 0.2-0.9 grams saturated fat
  • 1 tablespoon regular coffee creamer (original or flavored)=15-35 calories, 0.3-1 gram of saturated fat
  • 1 tablespoon half and half=20 calories, 1.1 grams of saturated fat

About UPMC Harrisburg

UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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