The Grapevine

Coconut Oil Benefits: Truth Or Fiction?

For a while, coconut oil enjoyed widespread popularity in the west, often listed as a "superfood" and being recommended by every other wellness blogger. The supposed benefits included everything from weight loss to better skin to lowered cholesterol.

But the oil has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. In a 2016 survey from the New York Times, 72 percent of Americans perceived coconut oil as healthy compared to only 37 percent of nutritionists. Indeed, there had been a disparity between the consumers and the experts.

You may remember the viral video from last year which featured Dr. Karin Michels. The Harvard professor referred to coconut oil as "pure poison" and "one of the worst things you can eat" during a lecture at the University of Freiburg.

For others, the oil seems to sit on the fence as opposed to being comparable to poison. It is "probably not quite as bad as butter but not as good as extra virgin olive oil," Kevin Klatt, a Cornell University researcher who is studying the metabolic effects of coconut oil, told CNN.

The main problem comes down to the high quantity of saturated fat compared to other oils, as you can see in this chart created by Iowa State University. A single tablespoon of coconut oil is estimated to contain over 11 grams of saturated fat, which is quite close to 13 grams, the daily recommended limit by the American Heart Association.

The association also published a paper, noting how this may actually lead to an increase in LDL cholesterol, a cause of cardiovascular disease. The bottom line was that people should ideally avoid the oil or use it sparingly if they like the taste.

Not all experts were in complete agreement with the stance, noting how the exact health effects of saturated fat are still not clearly understood. However, we do know that unsaturated fats — found in olive oil, for example — can reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.

This is why olive oil emerges as the top choice in healthful eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet. "The more important thing to remember is the overall dietary picture," Dr. Frank M. Sacks, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told ABC News.

"Saturated fats are just one piece of the puzzle. The American Heart Association recommends eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and to eat fewer calories if you need to lose weight."

On the beauty side of matters, coconut oil is fine to use as a body moisturizer or to massage into your nails and cuticles. But putting it on your face may be a bad idea, especially if you are prone to acne. Since the oil is very comedogenic, NYC-based dermatologist Libby Rhee warned that it may lead to clogged pores.