There's a running joke in the beauty and wellness world: No matter what ails you, it can be fixed with coconut oil. Hormonal breakout? Try some coconut oil. Dry strands? Try some coconut oil. Feeling bloated? Try some coconut oil. Computer crashed when you're on a work deadline? Try some coconut oil.
While there is some truth to it—coconut oil is a great hair mask and skincare elixir, for example—it's a jab at just how much we've stilted the superfood into an impossible cure-all. Scroll through Pinterest on any given day, and there are at least half a dozen listicles and graphics with new uses for it. But from a health-specific standpoint, more and more experts have indicated that it's not all that it's cracked up to be.
We first got an inkling of this disparity last summer, when The New York Times released the results of a survey in which they asked regular Americans and a panel of leading nutrition experts to rate popular "health" foods. By far, the biggest gap between the two survey pools involved coconut oil: While 72% of the public rated it as "healthy," only 37% of nutritionists agreed.
Then, one of the biggest forces behind the health world's shift into the mainstream chimed in. In an interview with MindBodyGreen, Whole Foods founder John Mackey didn't exactly hold back on his opinion on the "superfood." "I don't think oil is at all good for you—even oils like avocado or coconut oil," he said, going on to liken it to an indisputably unhealthy food. "The way I try to get people to understand oil is: What is sugar? You're taking a whole plant food, and you're taking only the carbohydrate out. Oil is the same thing—you're taking the whole plant food, and taking out just the fat. People are so willing to condemn sugar, but they don't condemn oil, which is pure fat. I'd actually argue that oil is less healthy than sugar."
That's pretty remarkable, considering that coconut oil is right up there with kale as one of the poster foods for the wellness movement. But Mackey hasn't even had the last word on the subject. In a move that essentially sounded the death knell on coconut oil's 15 minutes, the American Heart Association publicly advised against consuming coconut oil at all late last week, adding that it's honestly no healthier than beef fat or butter. "Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil," the association said in the Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory.
Coconut oil devotees, take note: Many experts we've spoken to just advise moderation with the oil, though, on the flip side, the same goes for plain old butter. And as for strategizing your fat intake in general, to get the most bang for your nutritional buck, maybe skip avocado oil in favor of actual avocados. (We know, we know—filling up on extra guac is a big ask.)
That being said, we still love coconut oil as a powerful moisturizer and antibacterial ingredient.
The original version of this story was published on April 13, 2017, and has since been updated.