If you thought coconut oil was better for you than butter, you’re in for a surprise.

Earlier this month, the American Heart Association issued an advisory that contained surprising news: Coconut oil, which had been widely touted for its health benefits, is actually 82 percent saturated fat, and studies show it raises LDL “bad” cholesterol as much as butter, beef fat or palm oil. 

This is concerning, says Phyllis Woodson, MS, RD, CDE, of the EVMS Strelitz Diabetes Center, because high LDL cholesterol raises the risk of heart disease. Since heart disease is the nation’s leading cause of death, Ms. Woodson advises adults — especially those with diabetes who may have two to four times the risk of heart disease — to follow the dietary recommendations of the American Heart Association, which encourages a low saturated-fat diet but includes “good fats.” 

Good fats, she explains, comprise olive oil, vegetable oil (canola, peanut, soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn, walnut and others), avocado, seeds and unsalted nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, and peanuts). Fish, such as salmon, is also a good fat. 

But, Ms. Woodson adds, be mindful of portions. Per gram, fats have twice the calories of proteins and carbohydrates. For example, a quarter-cup of nuts can contain 200 calories, and a whole avocado has as many calories as one-quarter of a stick of butter. 

For best results, eating more good fats should go hand-in-hand with reducing saturated fats, contained in the foods listed below.

  • Dairy products: whole milk and yogurt, high-fat cheese, full-fat sour cream, cream cheese, half and half, and whipping cream
  • Meats: hot dogs, strip bacon, sausage, bologna, salami and pastrami; skin on chicken, fatty meats and large amounts of red meat
  • Other foods: fried foods; sauces, creams and gravies 

Instead, consider these dietary modifications:

  • Lower-fat versions of milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products
  • Canadian or turkey bacon
  • Skinless chicken
  • Lean cuts of red meat
  • Choosing fish over meat more often 

Plant stanols and sterols, such as “Benecol” and “Promise Activ Light,” are recommended by the American Diabetes Association for heart health also, Ms. Woodson says. These tub spreads are recommended as healthier substitutes for butter or margarine in small amounts, and both are proven to reduce LDL cholesterol.