Is Coconut Oil Healthier Than Other Oils?

Little Bottle with Liquid and a Coconut Shell

Coconut oil has surged in popularity in the health and wellness sphere over the past decade, often touted as a “superfood” in various diet and health circles. Its advocates claim it offers numerous health benefits, from enhancing skin health to boosting brain function. However, the debate about whether coconut oil is healthier than other oils is ongoing, with differing opinions among nutritionists, dietitians, and health researchers. This article delves into the properties of coconut oil compared to other popular oils, examining its composition, health benefits, potential drawbacks, and how it stacks up against alternatives like olive oil, canola oil, and butter.

Understanding Coconut Oil

Composition and Types

Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of mature coconuts harvested from the coconut palm. It is unique among oils due to its high saturated fat content, comprising about 90% saturated fats, a much higher percentage than most other cooking oils. There are two main types of coconut oil: refined and virgin. Refined coconut oil is processed to remove impurities and flavor, making it more suitable for high-heat cooking due to its higher smoke point. Virgin coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat without chemical processing, generally considered to retain more nutrients and natural flavor.

Health Benefits

Metabolic Boost

One of the most celebrated benefits of coconut oil is its potential to boost metabolism. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are metabolized differently from long-chain triglycerides found in other fats. MCTs are absorbed directly by the liver and can be used as an immediate source of energy or turned into ketones, which are beneficial for the brain and might have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

Heart Health

The impact of coconut oil on heart health is highly debated. Some studies suggest that coconut oil can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol, potentially mitigating some of the negative effects of its high saturated fat content. However, it also raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, which could potentially increase cardiovascular risk.

Antimicrobial Effects

Lauric acid, a major component of coconut oil, has antimicrobial properties. It can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, suggesting that coconut oil could help protect against infections.

Comparisons with Other Oils

Coconut Oil vs. Olive Oil

Olive oil, especially extra-virgin olive oil, is widely praised for its health benefits, primarily due to its high content of monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, which have been linked to reduced inflammation and lower risk of heart disease. Unlike coconut oil, olive oil has a substantial amount of research backing its cardiovascular benefits, largely due to its role in the Mediterranean diet, which has been extensively studied and shown to improve heart health.

Coconut Oil vs. Canola Oil

Canola oil is another popular cooking oil, known for its low saturated fat content and high omega-3 fatty acid profile. Compared to coconut oil, canola oil is often recommended for general heart health due to its ability to lower LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL cholesterol. However, some critics of canola oil point to the extensive processing involved in its production, which can lead to the formation of trans fats and the loss of some beneficial antioxidants.

Coconut Oil vs. Butter

Butter, like coconut oil, is high in saturated fats, but it also contains cholesterol and significant amounts of butyric acid, which may have positive effects on intestinal health and inflammation. The choice between butter and coconut oil often depends on individual dietary restrictions, taste preference, and cooking needs.

Potential Drawbacks and Considerations

While coconut oil has some beneficial properties, its high saturated fat content can be a cause for concern, especially for individuals with existing cardiovascular conditions or high cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the intake of saturated fats, suggesting that oils with higher unsaturated fat content, like olive and canola oils, might be healthier choices for cardiovascular health.


Whether coconut oil is “healthier” than other oils depends on various factors, including individual health goals, dietary needs, and specific health conditions. While it offers certain unique benefits, such as its antimicrobial properties and the presence of MCTs, it is also high in saturated fats, which could be a drawback for heart health. As with any dietary choice, moderation and balance are key, and it’s beneficial to consult with healthcare providers when making significant changes to one’s diet.

Betsy Wilson

A true science nerd and pediatric nursing specialist, Betsy is passionate about all things pregnancy and baby-related. She contributes her expertise to the Scientific Origin.