10 Truths (and Lies) You Should Know About Coconut Oil

Similar to kale’s swift rise to the top of the health food scene, coconut oil slid onto store shelves faster than you could say “cuckoo for coconuts.” It’s garnered considerable attention across multiple industries, which has sparked conversation, research, and debate over just how beneficial the stuff really is. Can it help with your heart health? Are there alternative uses for it? In short, coconut oil has many benefits, but there are also some false claims that need addressing. Here’s what you should know about coconut oil.

1. True: Good for your cholesterol

Hands holding a red heart

Coconut oil may improve cholesterol levels. | iStock.com

Virgin coconut oil either doesn’t raise cholesterol, or it mainly raises HDL (good cholesterol). According to U.S. News & World Report, this helps improve the ratio of good cholesterol to bad. But while it could help improve your cholesterol, it’s yet to be determined whether coconut oil lowers your risk of heart attack or stroke.

The school of thought that claims coconut oil is good for your heart relies on research that’s not totally conclusive. With this in mind, saying coconut oil will undoubtedly lower your risk of heart disease would be irresponsible. The research cited in this story, which shows those whose diets were high in coconut oil showed low rates of heart disease, doesn’t necessarily account for their diets as a whole, nor their activity level, especially in comparison to that of the average American. Clearly, there needs to be more research.

2. False: Promotes long-term weight loss

close-up of a man measuring his waist with a tape measure

Coconut oil doesn’t guarantee weight loss. | iStock.com

You may have heard coconut oil can help with weight loss, but don’t be fooled by the clever spins you hear from food bloggers and health food marketers. Coconut oil alone will not guarantee significant weight loss. If you look at the composition of the oil itself, you’ll notice a large amount of medium-chain triglycerides, which are shorter than long-chain fatty acids found in other fats and oils. Many proponents say your body can more readily burn this type of fat. However, Mayo Clinic says too much coconut oil will still lead to a calorie overload, which your body stores as fat. Even though coconut oil in moderation isn’t going to harm you, it probably won’t help you shed pounds, either.

3. True: Helps heal wounds faster

man holding knee while running

Coconut oil may be good for your wounds. | iStock.com

Ever think about swapping out that Neosporin for coconut oil? Maybe you should. Even if you don’t subscribe to the health claims, it’s healing abilities might make you want to get down with your coconut oil-loving self. In a small study, researchers looked at wound closure time, antioxidant status, and biochemical parameters in rats. In the end, wounds treated with virgin coconut oil healed faster than those that were not. This means it might be time to give this remedy a try next the time you find yourself with a scraped knee. Just keep in mind, this was an animal study.

4. False: All coconut oils are created equal

whole coconut split in half next to a container of coconut oil

Make sure you’re buying a coconut oil that’s higher quality. | iStock.com

You need to be a discerning consumer with any product you buy, and coconut oil is no different. In terms of health benefits, it’s important you look at the type of oil you’re buying because virgin coconut oil is different from partially hydrogenated coconut oil. The latter, which contains trans fats, isn’t as healthy as the untouched version. According to The New York Times, partial hydrogenation destroys most of the good essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and the other nutrients found in virgin coconut oil.

5. True: Promotes good dental hygiene

Woman smiling with white teeth

Try oil pulling with coconut oil. | iStock.com

We’re talking about oil pulling, here. Unsure of what oil pulling entails? The oral therapy involves swishing one tablespoon of oil in your mouth for about 20 minutes before spitting it out. Although it may seem like a trendy practice, WebMD says it actually dates back 3,000 years. And there may be something to it. The story goes on to say oil pulling of any kind can help protect against gingivitis, plaque, and microorganisms that cause bad breath. This happens because the mouth is mostly full of single-celled microorganisms that stick together when they come in contact with the oil. Because coconut oil is antimicrobial, it’s probably your best bet for oil pulling.

6. False: Coconut oil has less fat than butter

Fresh coconut cut in half

Coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter. | iStock.com

Although often considered a better alternative to butter, coconut oil is more than 90% saturated fat, while butter comes in at about 65%, according to U.S. News & World Report. Coconut oil is also high in calories, with 120 per tablespoon. While it’s great for cooking, just be careful of how much you consume on a daily basis.

7. True: Great at removing makeup

Makeup products and accessories

Coconut oil allows you to remove your makeup with ease. | iStock.com/pogrebkov

Some people swear by coconut oil’s power as a moisturizer, and now you have one more reason to incorporate it into your everyday beauty regimen. In an article from Allure, cosmetic chemist Joseph Cincotta says coconut oil is super efficient in breaking up water-resistant substances used in eye shadow and mascara. And what’s even better is that it’ll leave your skin feeling soft and smooth. That’s pretty much a win-win in the coconut oil department.

8. False: Can treat Alzheimer’s

An elderly couple talking

There’s no real proof coconut oil treats Alzheimer’s. | iStock.com

It’s a hefty claim, and one that’s gotten attention in recent years. However, there’s currently no conclusive research to back it up. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, this belief came to life based upon coconut oil’s ability to act as an alternative energy source. When a person has Alzheimer’s, the nerve cells in their brains are unable to produce energy properly, and therefore, starve. While there’s not enough scientific evidence at this point in time, a clinical trial is currently being conducted in an effort to determine whether coconut oil has any effects on memory.

9. True: Good for your hair

young woman wiping hair with towel

Coconut oil can help your hair. | iStock.com/Central IT Alliance

It’s true, one of coconut oil’s magical healing powers is its ability to prevent hair damage. And who doesn’t want the healthiest hair possible? If that means giving coconut oil a shot, then go for it. Research shows coconut oil, when used pre- and post-wash, can significantly reduce protein loss in both undamaged and damaged hair. This is due to coconut oil’s composition. Its principal fatty acid has a high affinity for hair proteins, and its low molecular weight allows it to penetrate to the interior of the hair strand. In simpler terms, it keeps your hair healthy, so you may want to consider incorporating it into your daily beauty routine.

10. (Maybe) true: It can be used to treat yeast infections

woman in panties with hands covering herself

Coconut oil may be your new best friend. | iStock.com/Voyagerix

The truth is, coconut oil could be beneficial for treatment of candida, aka yeast. In fact, research shows coconut oil actively fights species of candida at 100% concentration. There’s even some research showing it can be used to treat vaginal yeast infections, but time will tell if this is really an effective remedy.