The Verdict On Coconut Oil: Is It Healthy or Not?

Coconut oil is currently at the center of a major nutrition debate.  Is it healthy or not?  Paleo Diet diehards have sworn by the versatile oil for years.  The biggest draw is its rich source of high quality fats.  But recent articles, the most notable of which appeared in USA Today, claim it was never healthy.  In fact, new research indicates it’s worse for your body than butter or lard.  So, who do you believe?  The ripped CrossFit fanatics who eat it every day?  Or the American Heart Association?  It’s a tough call.

Let’s start with the good

coconut oil
Credit: Shutterstock

Contrary to popular belief, your body needs fat.  Healthy fats are a major source of energy.  They also promote cell growth, protect your organs, and keep you warm.  Coconut oil gained popularity because it contains a lot of them.  As per popular Paleo Diet website Paleo Leap, the oil contains a rare digestive aid called medium-chain triglyceride, or MCT.  MCT aids in digesting fat and provides a quick energy boost upon consumption.

In addition to MCT, coconut oil is packed with a variety of fats—monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated.  Saturated fat makes up most of the fat content, however, and that’s what’s causing the controversy.

The problem with coconut oil

coconut oil in jar
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

All the saturated fat is a big issue.  Coconut oil has more saturated fat than butter, beef, pork lard, and palm oil.  And most of those foods or cooking agents were ruled unhealthy years ago.  USA Today estimates 82% of the oil’s composition is fat.  The American Heart Association warns that this much saturated fat raises your LDL cholesterol.  That’s the bad one that can cause cardiovascular disease and heart disease.

Furthermore, many forms of coconut oil on the market are hydrogenated.  These are the refined versions sold in clear bottles.  The hydrogenation process often turns the good fats into trans fats.  Trans fats are bad news for the body and also pump up your LDL levels.

Is it healthy?

Is coconut oil good or bad for your health?
Source: Max Pixel

No, coconut oil is not healthy.  Though many people swear by it, it’s not smart to put that much unhealthy fat in your body.  AHA suggests only 6% of your daily intake should be saturated fat.  It’s impossible to abide by these health guidelines if you’re cooking your food in this much unhealthy fat.  If you insist on using it, do so in moderation.  Substitute extra virgin olive oil or cooking sprays instead.

But before you toss out your jars or bottles of the stuff, repurpose it.  It makes a killer hair cream and body moisturizer.  Putting it on your body can work in your favor.  Putting it in?  Not so much.