From clean eaters to Instagram stars, people everywhere have been embracing the health- and beauty-promoting effects of coconut oil for many years. (Editor’s note: Here on What’s Good we’ve published 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil, as well as 8 Simple Ways To Add Coconut To Your Diet. Clearly, we’re believers!) Recently, however, coconut oil has faced some negative press, with some articles saying it increases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and may contribute to weight gain, since it’s a source of saturated fat.
So, let’s explore the facts—and get to the bottom of this debate.
MCTs & Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains a unique composition of healthy fatty acids—particularly fatty acids called medium chain triglycerides. (Heard of MCT oil? That’s this.)
MCTs have been shown to boost metabolism and support weight management. But there’s a catch: These beneficial effects come from oils containing 100 percent medium chain triglycerides. Not all products contain that much, so it’s important to read labels if you’re looking for those particular perks.
Related: Shop a variety of coconut oil products.
Consuming MCTs from coconut oil has also been shown to reduce your appetite, which can lead to less calorie consumption.
You’ll get the heathiest bang for your buck with coconut oil when you cook with it, as it’s highly stable at extremely high temperatures, which means it is less likely to break down and produce free radicals during cooking as compared to other oils (like olive oil).
Saturated Fat & Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is filled with saturated fat (in fact, 90 percent of its calories come from it), which is why it can sometimes get a bad rep. However, new research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that the association between saturated fat intake and heart disease is much lower (or even entirely lacking) than previously thought.
That doesn’t mean you should go head-over-heels with the stuff, though. Over-consumption of coconut oil can lead to excessive calorie intake that negates the beneficial boost in metabolism.
Lauric Acid & Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is also one of the richest dietary sources of lauric acid, an MCT that has been suggested to promote cognition and healthy brain function, according to Diabetes. MCTs go directly to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick energy source or converted into ketones (substances that break down fat for energy), which have been shown to exert therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Oral Health & Coconut Oil
Another popular use for coconut oil? Oil pulling (a.k.a. swishing oil in your mouth for upwards of 20 minutes), which can kill some harmful bacteria in the mouth, improving dental health and reducing bad breath. More and more people are trying it as they look for natural alternatives to mouthwash.
The Bottom Line: Moderation
Studies suggest that coconut oil is generally healthy. Just know that spooning it onto everything you eat won’t help you meet your health goals.
Related: I Tried Oil Pulling For Two Weeks—Here’s What It’s Like
A good rule of thumb: Limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your daily calorie intakes. For most individuals, that’s about 200 calories or a little less than two tablespoons of coconut oil per day.
Taylor Wallace holds a PhD in Food Science and Nutrition from The Ohio State University. He is a Certified Food Scientist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. Dr. Wallace has published 4 college-level textbooks and over 30 research articles in scientific journals. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards in the area of nutrition and food science, including the Regus Award given by the American College of Nutrition.