Tropical Oils

Tropical Oils

  • In most western countries, animal fats are the major source of saturated fat but tropical oils, especially coconut oil, is a major source in India particularly Kerala which has the highest rates of coronary artery disease (CAD) in the country (See Kerala Heart Disease). However, some studies have shown no difference in coconut consumption between those with and without CAD.1
  • The term tropical oils refer to coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils. These oils contain a very high percentage of LDL raising saturated fats, in sharp contrast to other cooking oils such as rapeseed oil (mustard oil), canola oil, sesame oil, and rice bran oil; which are low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat.2 
  • Tropical oils are more atherogenic and thrombogenic than mutton and beef fat; the latter contains <5% myristic acid compared to 18% in coconut and palm kernel oils. In fact, these oils contain more total cholesterol-raising saturated fat than animal fats ─ coconut oil 74%, palm kernel oil 71%, butter fat 53%, and palm oil 46%, compared to <30% in beef fat, pork fat, and chicken fat.3
  • Tropical oils account for <2% of energy (<4 g/d) in the U.S. but 25% or more in some countries. Tropical oils are also found in commercially baked cakes, biscuits, cookies, and “snack foods.” The US movie theaters have stopped using coconut oil for making popcorn as a result of strong protest from consumers.
  • Palm oil has become the major edible oil in world markets. This is a clear reflection of the poor understanding of its atherogenic effects.
  • In Mauritius, a regulated change in the saturated fat content by substituting soybean oil for palm oil resulted in a dramatic 32 mg/dL fall in total cholesterol and underscores the crucial role of cooking oils in population levels of total cholesterol.4  The benefit was far greater than all other preventive measures undertaken in the country over a period of five years.


1. Kumar PD. The role of coconut and coconut oil in coronary heart disease in Kerala, south India. Trop Doct. Oct 1997;27(4):215-217.

2. Enas EA. Cooking oil, cholesterol and coronary artery disease. Indian heart journal. 1996;48:423-428.

3. Enas EA. Indian diet and cardiovascular disease: An update. In: Chatterjee SS, ed. Update in Cardiology Hyderabad: Cardiology Society of India.; 2007.

4. Dowse GK, Gareeboo H, Alberti K, et al. Changes in Population Cholesterol Concentrations and Other Cardiovascular Risk Factor Levels After  Five Years of the Non-communicable Disease Intervention Programme in Mauritius. BMJ. 1995;311:1255-1259.

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