Coconut oil! A brilliant health food with much misunderstanding. No more! Join us as we answer: “How is coconut oil healthy?”.
Today we are going to be asking and answering: “How is coconut oil healthy?”. Coconut oil is the oil squeezed from coconut flesh, and is often boasted as a health food.
In this article, we have divided the benefits of coconut oil into two types.
The first is the benefits of eating coconut oil and using it as a food source, whilst the second focuses on its topical applications and more.
I tell you this because we usually speak about about the health benefits of certain foods when eaten. However, coconut oil is very often used topically and otherwise for its impressive benefits. Therefore, it only makes sense to discuss these too.
Let’s get into it!
1) Eating Coconut Oil:
Here are 5 brilliant health benefits of consuming coconut oil as a dietary source of fats and nutrition!
There are many ways to eat coconut oil, so first let’s quickly list a few…
We can use coconut oil as:
- A stable cooking oil (but use refined if frying – much like olive oil)
- A fat/oil for roasting and baking
- A complementary addition to healthy breakfasts and dishes
- A substitute for butter
- A core ingredient for smoothies and nut butter
Onto the benefits!
1. Healthy Fats and MCT Medium-Chain Triglycerides
Coconut oil provides many healthy saturated fats. These are essential for proper health, and despite popular myth, do not increase the risk of heart disease. In fact, they provide energy for our body and brain and play important roles in boosting bone and heart health alike.
Additionally, saturated fats – particularly some of those found in coconut oil – are key contributors to the health of the immune system and nervous system.
Lauric acid is the fat that coconut oil is richest in. It comprises over 40% of the oil’s content. This immune-boosting saturated fatty acid has antimicrobial, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and even anti-cancer properties! For these reasons, it shows great potential in the treatment of multiple diseases.
When we eat coconut oil, the Lauric acid goes mostly to the liver, where it is used to create energy. This energy comes from metabolites including ketones. Ketones can benefit the brain and have neuroprotective effects. They are also a result of the ketogenic diet.
However, a small amount of Lauric acid produces monolaurin during digestion. Monolaurin is a medium chain monoglyceride even more powerful antimicrobial properties than lauric acid.
However, in order to reap these benefits to their best potentials, people often use supplements. Coconut oil is still a good dietary source, though.
Coconut oil, and even more so supplements, can be powerful remedies for numerous viruses. Candida, the flu, and different types of herpes are all examples of such viruses.
Other healthy fats found in coconut oil include Capric acid, Myristic acid, Caprylic acid, and others. These all have beneficial effects similar to that of Lauric acid.
All of these fatty acids are classified as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). There are many studies on these, noting on some of the benefits listed below.
- Enhanced exercise performance(^)
- Weight loss(^)(^)
- Reduced age-related arteriosclerosis(^)
- Potential to lower blood lipid levels in Type 2 Diabetes(^)
- Raised plasma ketone levels
- Anti-inflammatory effects(^)
- Improved hair health
We will cover some of the benefits of MCTs more specifically as we continue on.
2. May Reduce Appetite by Lowering Hunger
There is potential for coconut oil to aid in weight loss. In the next two points, our focus will be on coconut oil’s benefits for weight loss. How is coconut oil healthy? Well, reduced appetite is one reason!
The MCTs naturally present in coconut oil make this possible.
Studies have shown that medium chain triglycerides can significantly reduce food intake, as much as by 33% in one study!
This study was conducted with overweight man who consumed 20g of MCT oil at breakfast. Ultimately, appetite decreased without adverse effects on lipid profiles.
Due to the large presence of MCT in coconut oil, it is possible for it to have a similar effect. However, further studies are needed to confirm this.
We’ll cover this benefit further in the next point.
3. Boosts Fat Burning
An additional benefit of MCT fatty acids in aiding weight loss is their ability to boost metabolism.
Long-chain triglycerides are the most common type of fatty acids in the human diet. These have many benefits and are essential for proper health, an example being Omega-3. Food sources of these include meat, fish, cheese, seafood, eggs, milk, and even coconut oil itself!
However, studies have found that for those looking to lose weight, MCTs may be beneficial than LCT. One study demonstrated that by increasing the ratio of MCT:LCT in the diet, overweight women had greater energy expenditure. This links back for the point above, where we mentioned that MCTs are mostly metabolised by the liver to create energy. For this reason, we do not effectively store these as fat.
What this means, is that coconut oil can also help to reduce visceral fat. We often find this kind of fat around the belly and waist. In another study, virgin coconut oil was concluded to be safe for reducing waist circumference with a mean reduction of 2.86cm. The study was conducted over 6 weeks, and, interestingly, found the most significant results in males. Lipid profiles showed no adverse effects.
How About Calories?
So we know that coconut oil can reduce appetite, but what about the calories?
Coconut oil – like other fats – provides 9 calories for every gram. This is another reason that it can actually help to reduce appetite, helping you eat less throughout the day – fat is satiating!
Calories are not all metabolised in the same way. This is important to know. And, as we have covered, most of the fats found in coconut oil will not be stored as fat.
Remember that a weight loss diet should not necessarily mean a low-fat diet (we will cover this another time). Harvard and other studies have effectively demonstrated that high-fat, low-carb diets are often beneficial for losing weight.
4. Improves Cholesterol Profile
One of the ways that eating coconut oil is great for your health, is its effect on your heart and cholesterol!
Multiple studies have shown that coconut oil can positively affect lipid profiles and boost HDL cholesterol. This cholesterol has many beneficial properties, and without it our bodies could not function healthily.
Here’s a list of some benefits of HDL cholesterol:
- Helping to transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) throughout the body and to the brain
- Helping to transport anti-inflammatory antioxidants
- Preventing heart disease
- Fighting atherosclerosis
- Improving arterial circulation
- Removing harmful LDL cholesterol (which can be very harmful in too high amounts)
Coconut oil consumption is a great way to increase these HDL levels!
5. May Support Brain Health
Coconut oil may have multiple benefits to brain health, including improved brain function and energy.
The human brain is about 60% fat. Therefore, getting enough fats in the diet is vital for proper brain health. The fats in coconut oil, particularly saturated fats, can have neuroprotective effects and support brain function.
Furthermore, HDL cholesterol can have similar effects.
In order for our brains to stay healthy and function optimally, it needs a host of nutrients – on demand. Without lipoproteins to transport these nutrients, our brain would never even see them!
The healthy fats and cholesterol from coconut oil can boost lipoprotein function, making sure that your brain receives the antioxidants and vitamins that it asks for!
The benefits of other types of healthy fats was covered in my Healthiest Food For Brain Health post.
As we have covered, medium chain triglycerides are turned into ketones in the liver. These ketones are one of the main providers of the benefits that coconut oil has for our brain.
Despite the fact that clinical and scientific study is still ongoing, here is what we know so far.
Ketones can provide high levels of energy for the brain, improving brain function, concentrion, health, and more. This is particularly true in certain situations.
In cases of brain injury, ketones play an important role in providing energy to the brain (up to 70% of energy requirements) and therefore an increased level of ketones can have significant benefits.
Furthermore, the study of ketogenic diets has shown many benefits for certain brain disorders and has a powerful neuroprotective effect. This diet purposefully raises ketone levels.
The most studied benefits include cases of effective treatment for epilepsy, significant benefits for brain function in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, improvements in concentration, and the ability to protect nerve cells(^).
As coconut oil can increase ketone levels, it is possible for it to have slight supportive effects for these benefits. However, more direct study is required on the effects of coconut oil and the brain. Only then, could these or other conclusions fully be made.
This is our final point to answer “How Is Coconut Oil Healthy” when consumed internally!
Topical and Other Applications:
Now then! You know about many of the benefits of eating coconut oil, but what else can it do? When answering “How Is Coconut Oil Healthy?”, these are a must!
You’ve probably seen or read about people using coconut oil for beauty purposes. More than more, companies are adding it into their products (like shampoo and moisturiser). BUT, there is caution to take.
Yes, it has been shown to be an effective moisturiser and have antimicrobial properties(^). Additionally, some studies show that it is beneficial for dermatitis / eczema and xerosis. And yet, there is much debate about whether it should be used on the skin.
One reason being that coconut oil does not penetrate the pores, and instead stays above them. This can cause them to become clogged and can lead to adverse effects for many people.
It would seem that for most people this is a bad idea. Because of this, I will instead be speaking about its other external applications.
6. Hair Care
People have used coconut oil cosmetically for thousands of years. In tropical areas, including Sri Lanka, its benefits for hair health are well-known.
It isn’t perfect for everyone though, so let’s speak about that first.
- People such as those without sufficient natural protein in their hair follicles are likely to achieve the best result. Most often, this applies to those with medium or fair hair, particularly if shiny. These people may find that coconut oil can boost the strength and shine of their hair.
- However, people with naturally dry hair a best of avoiding it. The same goes for those with coarse hair. This is because they are unlikely to have low protein, and coconut oil may cause brittleness or even hair loss.
There are multiple ways to use coconut oil for hair, ranging from shampoos to pure oil.
One recommended way to use is to work it through the hair and leave it for 15 to 30 minutes before washing hair. This way, can you get the benefits and also prevent your hair from absorbing too much water.
Some Potential Benefits for Your Hair:
- Reduced frizz
- Boosted hair strength
- More intense shine
- Hair protein loss prevention
So how much should you use?
Well, the pure oil is best if applied 2 to 3 times a week. It should be rubbed into the hair in small amounts, rather than used to coat it. You can leave it for anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight, and then wash it out.
If using products like conditioners or shampoos, then you can probably apply it more often. This is especially true for those containing multiple oils (purchase argan or castor oil). These may contain less coconut oil and provide protective and other benefits, too.
Experts recommend to avoid hair products with a lot of chemicals and additives in. Unfortunately, this isn’t easy for everyone. Therefore, try to choose those with as little as possible – preferably ones that are organic.
7. ‘Oil Pulling’ for Dental Health and Hygeine
Oil pulling is the process of using oils as a mouthwash. Sounds weird? In fact, I only heard of it a few weeks ago myself!
This is becoming increasingly popular and can be done with multiple oils. Coconut oil is one such example, much like Olive oil!
Extra virgin oils should be used for this purpose. These contain the most beneficial components, and are therefore much more effective.
Coconut oil has shown to greatly benefit oral health. By decreasing plaque formation, fighting bacteria, and treating halitosis, it may even be as effective as chlorhexidine. Companies often use this chemical in mouthwash, but it may have undesirable side effects.
Streptococcus mutans is a bacteria that contributes to plaque and tooth decay. In one study, 20 participants were made to oil pull for 20 minutes a day using sesame oil. Participants did for 10 minutes before brushing teeth, twice a day. This study measured the effects of oil pulling vs clorhexidine.
(Given that coconut oil is just as antimicrobial and antibacterial, it has similar effects. Pulling with any healthy oil to produce similar effects. It just so happens that this experiment used Sesame oil.
Many of those who have tried it and found great improvements attest this.)
The results were promising, showing significant improvements in the amount of this bacteria. The count of Streptococcus mutans in plaque was decreased by up to 80% after 2 weeks. Likewise, the reduction was seen in up to 50% in saliva samples.
Researchers took measurements at four different points during the experiment. Each showed significant improvement as time went on.
In the same study, plaque levels and plaque-induced gingivitis also significantly reduced. This was observed at the 10 day point, and published here.
There were also powerful effects on halitosis, leading to a strong reduction in bad breath(^).
In a Coconut-shell!
Fun fact: Coconuts aren’t actually nuts – botanically, they’re classified as a drupe!
To summarise this article, we have answered the question: “How Is Coconut Oil Healthy?”.
There are numerous impressive health benefits of coconut oil consumption and its external applications! These range from supporting weight loss, reducing the risk of disease, and improving cholesterol profile, the boosting oral health, and more in between!
It is a healthy addition to the diet and can be incorporated into almost any diet type!
As much as it is healthy, coconut oil is also versatile. It can be used in many different recipes and added to energy-boosting snacks, smoothies, and breakfasts!
My favourite way to use coconut oil is to add a tablespoon of extra-virgin into my Healthy Fermented Oats! Also, if you like yeast extract, you might find it surprising how well these two go together!
Anyway, I hope you learned a lot from this post. If so, let me know below and follow us on Facebook or Twitter (links below)!
Do you enjoy using coconut oil, and if so how do you use it? 🙂
Until the next one, stay healthy