Coconut oil has been in the headlines in recent years for various health reasons. In particular, experts go back and forth debating about whether or not it is good for cholesterol levels.

While some experts say you should avoid coconut oil because of its high levels of saturated fat (saturated fat is known to raise cholesterol), others claim that the fat’s structure makes it less likely to add to fat buildup in the body, and that therefore it’s healthy.

There are a lot of conflicting reports about whether or not coconut oil can help maintain healthy cholesterol, lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, or if it can help raise “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels. Research has not been too definitive either way. There are many facts known about this oil, however, and that may assist you in choosing whether or not to incorporate it into your diet. Consulting your physician is also a good idea.

Read More: The Health Benefits of Coconut Oil »

What Is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil is a tropical oil that is derived from the dried nut of the coconut palm tree. It contains nearly 13.6 grams of total fat and 12 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. It also contains nearly 0.8 grams of monounsaturated fats and about 0.2 grams of polyunsaturated fats, which are both considered “healthy” fats. It does not contain cholesterol. It is high in Vitamin E and polyphenols.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the oil from fresh coconuts contains a large amount of medium chain fatty acids. Those do not seem to become stored in fat tissue as much as long chain fatty acids. That’s why some people call coconut oil a weight loss tool. These experts say that coconut oil’s lauric acid, which is a healthy type of saturated fatty acid, is quickly burned up by the body for energy.

A 2015 study found that mice gained less weight when on a diet with coconut oil compared to soybean oil. This is despite the fact that coconut oil contains 91 percent saturated fat, compared to soybean oil’s 15 percent, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Of course, all types of fat have the same number of calories; it is only the difference in the fatty acid makeup that makes fats unique from each other. This small study supports the conclusion that lauric acid is indeed not stored as body fat as quickly as the type of fatty acids found in soybean oil. More human studies need to be completed to confirm this observation.

Benefits of Coconut Oil

In addition to being touted for weight loss benefits, coconut oil has been shown to have other positive properties.

It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory characteristics, and it can be easily absorbed into the body for energy.

Another 2015 study found that a combination of daily coconut oil intake and exercise could lower blood pressure and bring it back to normal values.

The Cholesterol Factor

Another study compared the effects of butter, coconut fat, and safflower oil on cholesterol levels, finding that coconut was effective at lowering LDL and triglyceride levels, and raising HDL levels.

Despite some research on whether or not coconut oil is helpful for cholesterol levels, the verdict is still out. It is not a widely recommended oil for cholesterol health in the way that canola oil is, for example.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends in 2013 guidance that coconut oil should be used less often than other healthier oils that have known health benefits, such as canola oil.

It’s good to stay on top of news to see what more is found about the effects of coconut oil on cholesterol levels. This will help you get a clearer picture of whether or not coconut oil is something you want to add into your diet.