(CBS) - The American Heart Association (AHA) released a report this week aimed at setting the record straight in the long-running debate over the healthiest fats.
A recent New York Times survey found that 72 percent of Americans think coconut oil is healthy but only 37 percent of nutritionists agree with them.
CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula explains that many people believe coconut oil to be healthy because it has been marketed as such with companies touting benefits such as anti-aging, prevention of dementia, and cardiovascular health.
"But the reality is when you look at what coconut oil is made of, 80 percent of it is saturated fat and that's similar to butter which is about 60 percent saturated fat or beef fat which is about 40 percent," Narula told "CBS This Morning." "Saturated fat raises the LDL or the 'bad' cholesterol so coconut oil is going to have that same effect as butter and beef fat."
In recent years, attention-grabbing media headlines have questioned whether or not saturated fat is as bad as previously thought, leading to even more confusion among consumers, Narula points out. But the AHA has stated since the 1960s that saturated fat is detrimental to cardiovascular health.
"The American Heart Association is now coming out very strongly and very clearly with this statement saying that saturated fat increases cardiovascular risk and that you need to look at what you're replacing it with when you take it out of the diet," she said.
For example, if replacing it with poly-unsaturated fat, including vegetable oils like corn, soybean, and peanut oil, can lower the risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent.
"If you replace it with mono-unsaturated fats, things like olive oil or avocado, that's good, too [though] not as good as poly-unsaturated fat, but it's pretty good," Narula said.
Replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates, refined grains or sugars, there won't be much effect. However, there might be some benefit to whole grains or healthier carbs.
The AHA recommends that people with high cholesterol keep total saturated fat intake to 5 to 6 percent of daily total calories. For people who do not have high cholesterol, that number should be under 10 percent.
"Fat is not fat. I think that it's very confusing for people who think that they're all the same but there really are these big differences and you have to read the labels and you have to look at what you're using."