Coconut oil remains highly popular, but some experts tell Healthline it’s not all that healthy for those who use it.

Over the past several years, consumers have been bombarded with information about the health benefits of coconut oil.

It can slow the aging process.

It can help your heart and thyroid.

It can protect you from illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and diabetes.

It can even help you lose weight!

Bah humbug, says Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver.

He says coconut oil is not just another fad that comes and goes — it’s also dangerous.

“There’s very little data showing health benefits,” Freeman told Healthline. “It’s not in one’s best interest.”

There’s no question that coconut oil is popular.

Freeman, who is co-chair of the American College of Cardiology’s lifestyle and nutrition group, notes it’s possible to buy the oil by the tub at Costco.

However, Freeman says, coconut oil is high in fat, so it’s about the worst thing to add to a typical American diet already rich in processed meat and cheese.

Lauren Blake, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, says some of her clients love coconut oil and think it has healing properties.

“I always advise them to be careful,” she told Healthline. “I don’t recommend one specific type of oil. I suggest they switch them around. Include olive oil or avocado oil.”

She noted that Today’s Dietitian magazine investigated some of the claims attributed to coconut oil.

“While there’s a possibility that MCFAs [medium-chain fatty acids] may behave differently in the body than longer-chain saturated fats, there’s no direct evidence that coconut oil increases insulin sensitivity or can be helpful in the prevention or treatment of diabetes in humans. The American Diabetes Association considers coconut oil a saturated fat to be limited,” the magazine reported.

True believers, however, say there’s science to back up their claims.

Coconut oil is made by pressing the fat from the white “meat” inside the giant nut. About 83 percent of its calories come from saturated fat. Compare that to 14 percent of calories from saturated fat in olive oil and 63 percent in butter.

“This explains why, like butter and lard, coconut oil is solid at room temperature with a long shelf life and the ability to withstand high cooking temperatures,” says registered dietitian Lisa Young, PhD.

Although coconut oil is high in saturated fats, it’s made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Some say the body handles these fats differently than other fats.

MCFAs, which are always saturated, are defined as having 6 to 12 carbons. Long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) have more than 12 carbons and can be saturated or unsaturated.

The two behave differently in the body. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and MCFAs are more easily absorbed than LCFAs because they’re more water-soluble.

“When I was in school, coconut oil was a big no-no because it was a saturated fat,” Blake recalled.

Now it’s popular again, although most professionals in the field don’t think much of it.

Fans of coconut oil point to studies that suggest the MCT saturated fat in coconut could boost HDL (good) cholesterol. This, they claim, makes it not as bad for heart health as the saturated fat in foods like cheese and steak or products containing trans fats.

But it also raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol.

“But just because coconut oil can raise HDL cholesterol doesn’t mean that it’s great for your heart,” Young said. “It’s not known if the rise in beneficial cholesterol outweighs any rise in harmful cholesterol.”

That’s Freeman’s point.

He says there is no proof coconut oil does anything other than clog arteries.

He points to the guidelines from the American Heart Association, which recommend limiting saturated fat to no more than 13 grams a day. That’s the amount found in about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil.

“It’s not a recommended oil by any of the guidelines that I know of. In general, it can contribute to cardiovascular disease risk because of its very high saturated fat content,” Freeman said.

While proponents of the health benefits of coconut oil claim it can ward off dementia, slow aging, and support heart health, the opposite may actually be true.

Plenty of studies show that consuming coconut oil significantly increases both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, along with HDL (good) cholesterol, compared to other nontropical vegetable oils.

And increased LDL is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

One 2020 meta-analysis of 16 studies calculated an LDL increase of more than 10 mg/dL from replacing nontropical vegetable oils with coconut oil. According to the authors, this may translate to a 6 percent increased risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke, and a 5.4 percent increased risk of death from heart disease.

However, not all scientists agree that increased LDL actually causes an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. And since coconut oil consistently increases HDL, which is associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease, some believe coconut oil’s bad rap may be unfounded.

Another 2020 review on the health effects of saturated fat, which is abundant in coconut oil, noted that reducing intake of saturated fat does not appear to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and may help protect against stroke.

More studies are needed to fully understand coconut oil’s effect on heart and overall health. In the meantime, it is probably in your best interest not to go all in on the coconut oil hype.

We know that coconut oil raises cholesterol, which may increase risk of cardiovascular disease. But what about its other purported health benefits — reducing inflammation, improving glucose regulation, and helping with weight management?

A 2020 review of the health effects of coconut oil found that consuming coconut oil had no significant effect on measures of inflammation, fasting glucose, or body composition compared with other nontropical oils.

So why all the media hype surrounding coconut oil’s health benefits when experts consistently warn that coconut oil’s effect may at best be unremarkable, or at worst increase your risk of heart disease?

One reason may be coconut oil’s high concentration of MCTs.

Much of the research cited by fans of coconut oil is focused on MCT oil. And while MCT oil can be made from coconuts, it is not the same as the coconut oil you find on the grocery shelf for cooking.

MCT oil is made up mostly of caprylic acid (an 8-carbon chain), capric acid (a 10-carbon chain), or a combination of the two.

Meanwhile, half of all the fatty acids in coconut oil are lauric acid, a saturated fat with a 12-carbon chain.

While it is chemically classified as an MCFA, lauric acid may act more like an LCFA in the way it is transported and absorbed in the body.

Another 25 percent of coconut oil’s fats are the LCFAs myristic acid and palmitic acid.

For this reason, it’s important to look at studies on coconut oil when trying to understand its health effects and not to extrapolate results from research on MCT oil.

Coconut oil has surged in popularity in response to media hype around its purported health benefits.

This is mostly due to its high concentration of MCTs, which behave differently in the body than long-chain saturated fats.

However, coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, which raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Most experts agree that this may increase your risk of heart disease.

Further, while coconut oil is abundant in MCTs, it does not have the same chemical makeup as MCT oil. For this reason, we cannot assume that any benefits of MCT oil extend to coconut oil itself.

More research is needed to confirm coconut oil’s other claimed health benefits.

For now, most experts recommend using a variety of oils in your cooking, including olive and avocado oils, rather than relying heavily on coconut oil.