Over the last few years, coconut oil has become a trendy product that is made out to seem like a cure-all for everything from ailments to weight loss.
These days, the oil, which is extracted from the meat of the fruit, is an ingredient in many products we use and consume daily, including cooking sprays, cosmetics, shampoos, body lotions, and more.
According to one survey, 72% of Americans consider coconut oil a healthy food and this makes sense because for so long, some food and diet experts have ranked it among the top.
However, as of late, more and more nutritionists are urging people to be cautious about their consumption of the oil because some of its properties can have some negative effects on your body.
One professor and epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan school of public health went as far as calling the supposed superfood "pure poison."
During a recent lecture titled "Coconut oil and other Nutritional Errors," at Germany's University of Freiburg, Karin Michels called the fat "one of the worst things you can eat." She explained that the high amount of saturated fat in coconut oil increases the levels of LDL cholesterol, which puts you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
What many people don't know is that coconut oil contains about 80% saturated fat, which is twice the amount found in bacon fat.
While Michels' warning may alarm those who have been consuming a lot of coconut oil, it's not the first time that experts have spoken out against the excessive use of the oil.
In 2017, the American Heart Association published a presidential advisory in which they revealed that coconut oil has long-term health benefits. Their updated guidelines now advise people to avoid the saturated fatty acids found in the oil.
"Coconut oil is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of types of fats. It's probably better than partially hydrogenated oils (which are) high in trans fats but not as good as the more unsaturated plant oils that have proven health benefits, like olive and canola oil," said Dr. Walter C. Willett, also a professor at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
These arguments were backed up by Kevin Klatt, a molecular nutrition researcher at Cornell University.
"It's probably not quite as 'bad' as butter but not as good as extra virgin olive oil," said Klatt. "But at the same time, you have to be evidence-based ... and (currently), the evidence reflects benefits for olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds -- so that should be the focus in the diet."
As for the claim that coconut oil will help with weight loss, Klatt explained that the oil does have a lot of calories, so it may not necessarily be best choice. In fact, just one tablespoon of the oil contains 120 calories, which is the same amount as a large apple of four cups of plain air-popped popcorn.
These findings don't mean that you have to give up the beloved oil, but it's best to be careful.
It's not that you have to absolutely avoid coconut oil but rather limit coconut oil to where you really need that special flavor, like for Thai food or for baking a special dessert," Willett added.
For your day-to-day cooking, it's best to rely on vegetable oils, nuts and seeds as your sources of fats. They are better for you overall as they have positive effects, including reducing the risk of heart disease in the long run.