Chances are, you’ve probably heard that coconut oil is the newest superfood, full of health benefits. But the truth about coconut oil is a little more complicated. Coconut oil doesn’t look like olive, canola, or most other oils – it’s thick and pretty much solid. This is due to its high saturated fat content; saturated fat is solid at room temperature, and coconut oil is 86% saturated fat. As you may recall, saturated fat is considered “bad” and “heart-unhealthy,” as it can raise cholesterol and lead to clogged arteries. So why has coconut oil, which is so high in heart-unhealthy saturated fat, received such a stellar reputation recently? The health halo around coconut oil has to do with the type of saturated fat it contains – lauric acid. Some research has shown that lauric acid isn’t as bad for us as other types of saturated fat; it’s even believed to help raise HDL, or good cholesterol. On the flip side, lauric acid has also been shown to raise LDL, or bad cholesterol – so its effects on cholesterol are pretty much a wash.
The health effects of coconut oil haven’t been very well-studied, so it remains to be seen if the lauric acid and other compounds it contains confer any health benefits. Proponents of coconut oil claim that it can aid in weight loss and help treat Alzheimer’s disease, but to date there have been no large, reputable studies to prove these claims.
So, given what little evidence is out there about its health benefits, should you consume coconut oil? Like most other foods, coconut oil is okay in limited amounts. If you like its taste and texture, or if you have a favorite recipe that depends on it as an ingredient, there’s no reason to stop using it in moderation. However, if you haven’t yet tried coconut oil, there really isn’t any reason to start, as its lower-saturated fat counterparts, like olive oil, are full of heart-healthy fats and other beneficial compounds.