Is Coconut Oil Worse for You Than Butter?

By Anna Ganser

What is one product that you can make a hair mask, face mask, makeup remover, exfoliator, soap or any kind of baked good out of? You most definitely are thinking of coconut oil.

Coconut oil is a fatty oil made out of coconuts that’s use blew up in the past 20 years, but has shown a sudden drop in sales recently. Once dubbed the “healthiest oil,” it has now been outed by some nutritionists for being as unhealthy as butter, even called “pure poison” by an adjunct epidemiology professor at Harvard. As mutually exclusive ideas, this conversation of “hot” versus “not” intrigued me. So here’s the low-down on coconut oil.

How it began

The trend of coconut oil being a superfood began around the year 2011. Healthline reports, “The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil can increase how many calories you burn compared to the same amount of calories from longer chain fats.” The idea that the oil raises one’s metabolism spread, causing retail sales to run up to $229 million at its peak in 2015, before its eventual fall later that year. Nutritionists caused its downfall and have continued to come out with data that shows that the negatives of coconut oil include raising “bad” cholesterol (LDL). With this information released, consumers have to weigh the negative effects versus the possible positives.

That said, there is little to no controversy about coconut oil being used externally. Despite the fact that it may make oily-skin break out if used liberally, using the oil as a hair mask or makeup remover won’t be detrimental to your health. However, regarding the dispute of its healthiness in food, there remain arguments for both sides.

The pros and cons

Coconut oil is comprised of 86 percent saturated fat, or chains of carbon atoms that are typically long and single-bonded. These fats raise LDL cholesterol. High levels of this cholesterol raise the chance of having a stroke and/or heart disease. So the recommended intake of saturated fat is limited to about five to six percent of the calories that you eat in one day. But the thing about coconut oil is that it is actually a shorter, “medium” chain of carbon than a typical saturated fat, making it easier to break down than other saturated fats such as butter. This fact becomes confusing for the consumer; is it a healthier alternative to butter?

Some still say that coconut oil is some kind of magical food: that it can increase fat burning or raise “good” cholesterol (HDL), but nutritionists vehemently disagree. In a study conducted by the New York Times, about 70 percent of Americans said that they considered coconut oil to be healthy, but only about 35 percent of nutritionists concurred the same. Most nutritionists seem to agree that coconut oil does have some good properties and is healthier than butter. But there are other alternatives that both lower LDL and raise HDL, such as olive oil or avocado oil.

WedMD writes, “Coconut oil contains a type of fat that can increase cholesterol levels. Regularly eating meals containing coconut oil can increase levels of ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.” Since nutritionists have come out with data on the unhealthiness of coconut oil, the outdated concept of its stapleness has significantly gone down. In response to this, retail sales have dropped by a whopping 24 percent since the beginning of 2015.

The best alternative

Though coconut oil truly is better for our bodies than butter is, there are still healthier alternatives. Oils that have a smaller percentage of saturated fat, such as extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil and safflower oil tend to be better substitutes for butter in baking specifically.

Despite the fact that the coconut oil trend had a large pulse up until 2015, nutritionists are settling the conversation with the confirmation that coconut oil is not, in fact, a “superfood” as some believe. Fads like this one may come and go, and as a consumer, it can be hard to understand the difference between a fad and a true superfood. My recommendation would be to keep a good eye on what nutritionists are saying.


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