Coconuts. They smell nice, they taste sweet, but you’ve also heard they’re high in saturated fat, the kind of fat that’s bad for your heart, right? So is consuming or using coconut oil really good for you? The truth is, there are a number of benefits of coconut oil you should be aware of, so you can make healthy choices for you and your family.
Coconut oil continues to gain popularity and has experienced a boom in sales, despite what some may have previously warned about its saturated fat content. Why is that?
To answer this question, let’s first briefly look at the nutritional makeup of coconut oil. One tablespoon of coconut oil contains about:
- 117 calories
- 0 grams of protein
- 13.6 grams of fat (11.8 saturated, 0.8 monounsaturated and 0.2 polyunsaturated)
- 0 grams of carbohydrate (0 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugar)
Coconut oil is essentially made up of 100-percent fat. With that said, the fat in coconut oil is different from the traditional saturated fat often found in animal products.
Coconut oil has a very high amount of what’s known as medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides, which are more difficult for our bodies to convert into stored fat and easier for our bodies to burn off, when compared to long-chain fatty acids or triglycerides (what’s found in animal products). It’s important to point out, however, that not all coconut oils are the same.
When it comes to the health bang-for-your-buck, you should stick with virgin coconut oil, which is extracted from the fruit of fresh, mature coconuts without using high temperatures or chemicals, and is therefore, considered unrefined. Steer clear of partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which is just as bad for your health as other highly processed oils containing trans-fat.
Now that we’ve provided a quick nutritional overview of coconut oil, we’ll talk about some of its possible health advantages. From soothing your skin to hydrating your hair to bolstering your gut and immune system, coconut oil is considered a superfood by many.
The Benefits of Coconut Oil
1. Has a good effect on hearts
In a randomized clinical trial, 40 participants consumed either 2 tablespoons of coconut oil or 2 tablespoons of soybean oil once a day for three months. The soybean group saw their high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol level go down and their low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol go up (both indicate an increased risk for cardiovascular disease). The coconut oil group didn’t have a significant change in their cholesterol numbers, but were more likely to have a higher HDL level, which is good for your heart. Coconut oil contains about 50-percent lauric acid, which may help in preventing certain heart problems like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
2. Helps you lose weight
As we mentioned earlier, coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, which increase calorie burning and may promote weight loss. Research has suggested that consumption of coconut oil can help decrease waist size, and more specifically, may reduce abdominal obesity in women. When compared with other fats, coconut oil has 2.6-percent fewer calories. It’s important to remember, however, that all high-fat foods and oils are calorically dense. Therefore, just sprinkling in more calorically dense food into a diet already packed with calories will not result in weight loss.
3. Aids in balancing blood sugar
Research has shown that diets high in medium-chain triglycerides (the majority of coconut oil’s makeup) aid in improving glucose (blood sugar) tolerance and decrease body-fat accumulation when compared to diets high in long-chain triglycerides. Coconut oil may also improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics. For example, one study followed participants who consumed a diet in which 40 percent of calories came from fat, either comprised of mostly medium-chain triglycerides or long-chain triglycerides. The medium-chain group improved their insulin-mediated glucose metabolism by 30 percent.
4. Strengthens immunity
Coconut oil contains antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, which all have anti-fungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. Our bodies convert lauric acid into something called monolaurin. Research has supported that monolaurin helps fight viruses and bacteria that cause conditions like influenza.
5. Supports healthy digestion
When used in cooking, coconut oil can be a friend to the digestive system, preventing various digestion-related issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Candida albicans, a normal part of our gut bacteria, can sometimes get out of balance and cause infection. Anti-fungal medications are commonly used to treat this condition; however, a recent study suggests coconut oil may be an effective alternative to these drugs. Absorbing vitamins, minerals and amino acids is also reportedly enhanced by consuming coconut oil.
6. Transforms your teeth and dental health
Calcium is key to dental health. Coconut oil helps our bodies absorb calcium, which can further strengthen our teeth. It is also beneficial in reducing plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis. A process known as “oil pulling” involves swishing coconut oil around the mouth and has been used for thousands of years as an Indian folk remedy. To oil pull, put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth, then swish it around for 15 to 20 minutes. Oil pulling is said to reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in your mouth.
7. Soothing skin
Coconut oil can be a wonderful massage oil that acts as an ideal moisturizer for all types of skin, including dry skin. It is a safe solution for preventing dryness and flaking of skin. Coconut oil also helps battle the signs of premature aging, including delaying the appearance of wrinkles and sagging of the skin. It can be effective in treating various skin problems, too, from psoriasis and eczema to other skin infections.
8. Hydrating and healing hair
Want your hair to grow and shine? Coconut oil appears to deliver here, too. Coconut oil is an excellent conditioner and may support the re-growth process of damaged hair. While in the shower, try melting your coconut oil by running the jar under warm water (coconut oil is a creamy solid at room temperature; it becomes liquid when heated to 76 degrees Fahrenheit). After you shampoo, apply an ample amount of the oil to your wet strands. Leave on for at least five minutes before rinsing.
Tips for Using Coconut Oil
Now that you’ve learned about the benefits of coconut oil, here are some quick tips for using it more:
When cooking, cook with only virgin coconut oil and use it in moderation, as with all other cooking oils. Avoid packaged or manufactured foods that contain partially hydrogenated coconut oil.
Because of its taste, coconut oil is great for baking. Coconut oil can be easily substituted for butter and shortening in recipes, and if you’re cooking vegan, it serves as a good plant-based replacement.
Seek out and try healthy recipes that incorporate coconut oil. Check out the Whole Foods Market blog for a little inspiration.
Like other saturated fats, coconut oil is solid at room temperature and turns to liquid when heated. It’s best to store it someplace cool and dark.
Risks of Consuming Coconut Oil
Current research suggests that the link between saturated fats and heart disease may be weaker than many had once believed. Although there is credible evidence backing this thinking, the USDA Dietary Guidelines still recommend avoiding saturated fats, which include tropical oils like coconut. Some professionals argue that the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have a good effect on HDL and total cholesterol, while others claim that these acids have a negative effect when it comes to raising LDL (countering any positive heart-health characteristics).
Because research is much more established in backing the health assets of unsaturated fatty acids, some skeptics of coconut oil, including the American Heart Association, recommend limiting its consumption. Despite the criticism, the majority of experts agree that replacing trans-fats and other commonly used commercial vegetable oils in packaged and processed products with coconut oil is sound advice.
Bottom line: Consuming coconut oil in moderation is fine. Above all, what matters most in achieving good health is eating a diet rich with color and variety rather than concentrating on individual foods as some sort of magic bullet for disease prevention and lasting wellness.