Is coconut oil really healthier than other oils? Here's the truth behind the trend

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Coconut oil may be praised for its countless creative uses, both in and out of the kitchen, but is it really healthier than any other oil? 

Nope, not really. 

Here's what's really behind the coconut oil craze

Coconut oil, not to be confused with coconut milk (made from coconut meat pulp) or coconut water (made from the liquid found inside a whole coconut), is made from the oils pressed from coconut meat, similar to olive oil and other plant-based oils. 

Coconut oil has seen a recent surge in popularity, with prices increasing by 20% in April 2016 due to a rising remand. Paleo dieters practically take baths in the coconut grease and beauty trends like oil pulling have become more mainstream, but coconut oil isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be.  While coconut oil certainly has its seemingly endless practical uses, it's important not to be blindsided by the actual nutritional data. 

Like most oils, coconut oil is plentiful in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 13 grams of saturated fat, which can raise bad cholesterol — or low-density lipoprotein — and put you at higher risk for heart disease, each day. Any guess how much saturated fat a tablespoon of coconut oil has? That would be 12 grams. In comparison, a tablespoon of olive oil has about 2 grams of saturated fat and canola oil has 1 gram.

Calorie-wise, coconut oil at 116 calories per tablespoon ranks fairly equally with olive oil's 119 calories and canola's 124 calories. Even a tablespoon of unsalted butter has only 100 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat! 

Is coconut oil even worth it? 

Coconuts are cute, but are they healthy?
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The benefits of coconut oil for cooking

Coconut oil's high smoke point can make it better for cooking foods at higher temperatures and the lauric acid in coconut oil is said to increase good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein, in your bloodstream, but that still doesn't make coconut oil the best of the oils.

"I'd use coconut oil sparingly," Dr. Walter C. Willett wrote in a Harvard Health Letter updated in March 2016. He continued:

Most of the research so far has consisted of short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. We don't really know how coconut oil affects heart disease. And I don't think coconut oil is as healthful as vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL. Coconut oil's special HDL-boosting effect may make it "less bad" than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it's still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.

What's really the best oil to use, then?

So what's the healthiest oil? While limiting saturated fat should always be kept in mind, studies have shown virgin olive oil to have the most health benefits and fewest health setbacks of your edible oil options. Get ready for the olive oil craze to hit Instagram ASAP. 

Frying with any oil can be a challenge...
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Melissa Kravitz

Melissa Kravitz is a contributor for Mic. Her work has appeared on Thrillist, Mashable, Elite Daily, Time Out, Refinery29, Gothamist, Racked and more.

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