Cutting Back on Coconut Oil

Everyone is nuts about coconut oil. It might be time to take another look.

A Harvard professor recently took to YouTube to declare that coconut oil is pure poison. The video went viral and, while not everyone agrees, coconut oil is getting a closer look. So, is coconut oil good for you? The answers are little hazy, but here's what we know.

This so-called superfood has been advertised as a cure-all that can help with everything from weight loss to bacterial infections and oral hygiene. It's even been promoted as a healthier alternative to olive oil. But Dr. Alice H Lichtenstein, a professor at Tufts University and vice chair of the federal government's dietary guidelines advisory committee, says there's not enough science-backed evidence to support all these claims.

Coconut oil lovers are so sure of it's healing abilities, many have been known to swish it around in their mouths for twenty tedious minutes a day. Swishing coconut oil between your teeth is thought to whiten teeth, detoxify gums, and kill germs. It's an ancient Ayurvedic remedy that dentists don't necessarily believe, which begs the question: Haven't we already come up with easier, more effective ways to take care of our oral health? What's more, The American Dental Association, citing lack of scientific evidence, doesn't recommend supplementing regular dental care with coconut oil.

What about cooking with coconut oil?

Coconut oil is known to have a higher smoking point than olive oil, making it seem like a better choice for cooking. But Dr. Lichtenstein says that coconut oil actually has more saturated fatty acids linked to higher cholesterol levels and heart disease, and recommends sticking to cooking with the classic favorite. In fact, one tablespoon of coconut oil has six times the amount of saturated fat than the same amount of olive oil.

Eating a spoonful of coconut oil in the morning before breakfast was once a popular practice among wellness advocates, thought to jump start weight loss. That tablespoon of coconut oil in the morning might work to ward of cravings, but that's likely because it contains the recommended daily value of fat intake. Unless you're willing to cut all fat for the rest of the day, this wellness fad is actually damaging to cholesterol levels and heart health.

You don't have to cut coconut oil out completely, though. High-quality coconut oil in moderation is safe to use. If you're going to keep cooking with coconut oil, Dr. Lichtenstein recommends using gently processed, virgin coconut oil only and using it sparingly. Virgin coconut oil can be a great butter substitute in baked goods and can bring out sweetness in roasted vegetables. Just make sure to steer clear of refined, bleached, and deodorized coconut oils that are processed harshly and at high heat. The healthy essential fatty acids and antioxidants are destroyed when heated to such high temperatures, and what's left is a cholesterol raising, nutrient depleted oil.

coconut oil moisturizer Curly Chronicles

But wait: coconut oil is still one of the ultimate beauty products!

Despite the new research on its health benefits, coconut oil isn't all that bad. It's still one of the most versatile oils on the market, and is found in beauty kits around the globe as a face and body moisturizer, makeup remover, hair mask, and even lubricant. One jar of organic, virgin coconut oil really does go a long way when it comes to natural beauty solutions.

Superfood fads can be hard to follow, and are not the most reliable way to maintain good health. Old foods made new when marketed as "super" often grow cult followings. But sticking to a diet rich in a variety of seasonal, whole foods and limiting saturated fat intake is the most reliable way to stay healthy.