The Top Health Benefits of Coconut Oil You Need to Know

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Coconut oil is a popular cooking medium and edible oil. It is a derivative of coconut kernels, meat, and milk. Coconut oil takes the form of a white viscous liquid in colder regions and a clear, thin liquid oil in warmer climates. Unrefined varieties have a distinct coconut aroma. Coconut oil is an edible oil and also has limited industrial applications. The oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, high levels of good fat, and numerous health benefits.

Coconut oil has a long culinary history in Asia. Its usage is prevalent in tropical regions where the plant grows aplenty. It is the most popular cooking medium in Sri Lankan cuisine, Thailand and Southern India. This oil is gaining popularity in Western countries as well. Coconut oil is now quite common in baked goods, pastries, and savoury dishes like fries and sautés. 

Nutritional Profile of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is composed mainly of fats. Here’s the nutritional composition of coconut oil per 100 grams as per USDA:

Energy: 892 kcal

Fat: 99.1g

Saturated Fat: 82.5g

Monounsaturated Fat: 6.31g

Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.7g

Iron: 0.05mg

Calcium: 1mg

Vitamin E: 0.11mg

Coconut oil has a high saturated fat content, particularly lauric acid. This saturated fat content is significantly higher than that of most other vegetable oils, which are primarily composed of unsaturated fats. While some believe that the unique composition of fatty acids in coconut oil, particularly the presence of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), has health benefits, it’s essential to consider the potential implications of the high saturated fat content, especially for heart health.

In terms of vitamins and minerals, coconut oil contains very minimal amounts:

Vitamin E: About 20% of the Daily Value (DV) per 100 grams

Vitamin K: Approximately 1% of the DV per 100 grams

Iron: Minimal, around 0.05 mg per 100 grams

Phytosterols: Approximately 86 mg

Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has gained significant popularity due to numerous health benefits. One can attribute the surge in coconut oil’s demand to various health claims associated with it. Some of the health benefits are:

Increase Good Cholesterol

There have been assertions that the saturated fats in coconut oil, particularly lauric acid, may have a neutral or even positive effect on heart health by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Better Cognitive Function

Coconut oil has linkages with improved cognitive function, and some proponents suggest it may help prevent neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. When the body metabolises MCTs, it leads to the production of ketones, which may provide an alternative energy source for the brain. 

Promotes Weight Loss and Fat Burning

The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil boost metabolism and reduce appetite, potentially aiding weight loss. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil promote the burning of calories and increase satiety. 

Skin Health

Coconut oil has moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a popular natural remedy for skin conditions. Research shows that topically applying coconut oil to the skin can improve hydration and reduce symptoms of eczema and atopic dermatitis.

Hair Care

Coconut oil demonstrates a significant reduction in protein loss for both undamaged and damaged hair when used before and after washing. In a comparative study, sunflower and mineral oils exhibited no discernible effect in mitigating protein loss from the hair. On the other hand, coconut oil, primarily composed of lauric acid as a triglyceride, possesses a strong affinity for hair proteins. Its low molecular weight and linear molecular structure facilitate deep penetration into the hair shaft.

Antimicrobial Properties

The lauric acid in coconut oil contributes to its antimicrobial properties. Research indicates that coconut oil may be effective against various types of fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

Immune System Support

Coconut oil has emerged as a promising immune-nutritive activity with potential benefits for various aspects of health and industry. It contains lauric acid, which offers antimicrobial and antiviral qualities, helping to fend off infections.

Digestive Health

Coconut oil’s antimicrobial properties can promote a healthy gut microbiome by combating harmful gut bacteria. Coconut oil stops the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. In an animal-based study, rats with liver disease consumed a high-glucose diet ( with and without coconut oil). Those who had coconut oil had improved liver health after four weeks.

Controlling Blood Sugar

Medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil help preserve insulin sensitivity. However, it’s important to note that the review mentioned in the text highlighted the specific benefits of MCT oil, not coconut oil itself. Studies also show coconut oil increases satiety, which means it will reduce cravings for high-sugar snacks. 

Reducing Stress

Virgin coconut oil, known for its potential antioxidant properties, was tested in a rodent study to assess its impact on stress induced by exercise and chronic cold exposure. The findings suggested that virgin coconut oil could be beneficial in addressing specific forms of stress and depression. 

It’s important to note that while these studies provide evidence of potential benefits, more research can help fully understand the extent of coconut oil’s effects on health. Also, individual responses to coconut oil can vary, and moderation in consumption is ideal due to its high saturated fat content.

Summary

The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil may provide an alternative energy source for the brain. MCTs may improve cognitive performance in individuals with mild cognitive impairment. Coconut oil also contains antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. Because of its possible antioxidant qualities, virgin coconut oil may help with some types of stress and depression.  Additionally, coconut oil’s medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) support the maintenance of insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, the antibacterial qualities of coconut oil can support healthy gut flora and fight against dangerous gut bacteria. Coconut oil applied topically is beneficial to the health of the skin and hair. 

Ways to Include Coconut Oil in Diet

Coconut oil is an ingredient that one can incorporate in their daily routine in several ways:

Cooking and Baking

Use it as a cooking oil for sautéing or frying. Its high smoke point makes it suitable for high-heat cooking. 

Substitute it for butter or other oils in baking recipes to add a delightful coconut flavour to your dishes.

Smoothies

Add one or two spoonfuls of coconut oil to any smoothie for a creamy texture and flavour.

Coffee

Try “bulletproof coffee” by blending a teaspoon of coconut oil with your morning coffee for great skin and an energising drink. 

Salad Dressings

Create homemade salad dressings by combining coconut oil with vinegar or citrus juices for a unique and healthy vinaigrette.

Popcorn

Drizzle melted coconut oil over freshly popped popcorn, then season with your favourite spices for a tasty and aromatic snack.

Stir-Fries and Curries

Add coconut oil to stir-fries and curries to enhance the flavour and provide a hint of coconut aroma.

Toast Topping

Spread a layer of coconut oil on whole-grain toast instead of butter or margarine.

Coconut Butter

Make coconut butter by blending coconut oil with shredded coconut and a touch of sweetener for a delicious spread.

Energy Bars

Create homemade energy bars by mixing coconut oil with dates, a choice of nuts, healthy seeds, and dried fruits for a nutritious energy bar.

Tasty Snacks

Dip apple slices or carrot sticks in a mixture of coconut oil and nut butter for a satisfying and energising snack.

Skin and Hair Care

Apply coconut oil topically as a moisturiser for the skin, hair conditioner, or a soothing after-sun treatment.

Oil Pulling

A traditional Yogic method where one swishes their mouth with a teaspoon or two of coconut oil for about 15-20 minutes as a part of an oil-pulling routine to promote oral hygiene.

Supplements

Consider coconut oil supplements in the form of capsules for a convenient way to obtain their potential health benefits.

Here are two easy recipes to try:

Coconut Oil Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients

Mixed vegetables (e.g., carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, and broccoli), chopped into bite-sized pieces: 200 g

Coconut oil, melted: 2 tbsp

Garlic powder: 1 tsp

Red chilly powder: I tsp

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Fresh coriander, chopped (optional for garnish): 2 tbsp

Method of Preparation

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

In a large bowl, one must combine the chopped vegetables, melted coconut oil, garlic powder, red chilly powder, salt, and black pepper. Toss the vegetables until you coat them with the coconut oil and seasonings.

Spread the seasoned vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Roast the vegetables in the preheated oven. Keep it for 20-25 minutes or until they are tender and slightly browned, stirring once or twice during the cooking process for even roasting.

Take out the roasted vegetables from the oven and garnish with fresh cilantro if desired.

Serve the coconut oil roasted vegetables as a delightful side dish with your favourite protein or as a tasty addition to salads or grain bowls.

Coconut Oil Popcorn

Ingredients

Popcorn kernels: 250 g

Coconut oil: 2-3 tbsp

Salt, to taste

Nutritional yeast (optional for a cheesy flavour)

Instructions

Place a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid on gas over medium to high heat setting.

Sprinkle coconut oil into the pot and allow it to melt. After that, add popcorn kernels to the pot and cover it with the lid.

When the test kernels pop, this indicates that the coconut oil is hot enough. Remove the test kernels and set them aside.

Add the remaining popcorn kernels, cover it with the lid, and give it a good shake to distribute the heat evenly.

Continue to shake the pot occasionally to prevent burning. As the kernels pop, reduce the heat to medium-low.

Once the pop slows down, remove the pot from the heat. Let it sit for a minute to allow any remaining kernels to pop.

Carefully remove the lid (watch out for steam) and season the popcorn with salt and, if desired, nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavour. Toss to coat evenly.

Serve the coconut oil popcorn immediately for a delicious, aromatic, and healthy snack.

Coconut Oil Contradictions

The use of coconut oil in weight loss is still a subject of debate, and its high-calorie content may counteract any potential benefits for weight management.

While lauric acid may have antimicrobial properties, it is primarily composed of saturated fats, which can raise LDL cholesterol levels and potentially increase the risk of heart disease.

The link between coconut oil and cognitive health remains controversial, with limited and inconclusive research.

As with any dietary trend, it’s essential to approach it with caution and consider individual health and nutritional needs. Consulting with a nutritionist can provide personalised guidance on the role of coconut oil in one’s diet and its potential benefits and risks. The key to a healthy diet is often moderation, variety, and a balanced approach that includes a wide range of foods and ingredients.

Summary

It’s important to proceed cautiously and take into account each person’s unique health and nutritional requirements while implementing any dietary trend. Coconut oil’s high-calorie content may outweigh any possible advantages for weight control, and its usage in weight loss is still confusing. Lauric acid comprises mainly of saturated fats, which might raise LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, even if it has antibacterial characteristics.

HealthifyMe Suggestion

Coconut oil’s health benefits are mainly attributed to its high content of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are unique due to their chemical structure and how the body processes them. They are rapidly absorbed in the gut, quickly entering the bloodstream and heading directly to the liver, making their processing much more efficient compared to long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). This efficiency contributes to the health benefits of coconut oil.

Conclusion

Coconut oil has health benefits, but its high saturated fat content can adversely affect heart health if consumed in excess. Moderation is crucial, especially for those with heart conditions. While it shows promise in health and beauty, individual responses vary, and not all studies are consistent. Consider it as part of a balanced lifestyle, using it alongside other nutritious foods and skincare products. Its use should align with individual health and dietary goals, weighing potential benefits and saturated fat content.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information, please contact our certified nutritionists Here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is coconut oil?

A: Coconut oil is an edible oil derived from coconut kernels, meat, and milk. It exists as a white viscous liquid in colder regions and a clear, thin oil in warmer climates. It is known for its high levels of saturated fats and medium-chain fatty acids, offering various potential health benefits.

Q: Can coconut oil promote weight loss and fat burning?

A: Yes, coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that can boost metabolism and reduce appetite, potentially aiding weight loss. MCTs promote calorie burning and increase satiety, helping with fat burning and weight management.

Q: How does coconut oil affect heart health?

A: Coconut oil’s saturated fat content, primarily lauric acid, has mixed effects on heart health. It may raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is considered suitable for heart health. However, its high saturated fat content can potentially increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is less favourable. Therefore, moderation is essential, especially for individuals with existing heart conditions.

Q: Can coconut oil help with cholesterol management?

A: Coconut oil’s impact on cholesterol levels is complex. While some suggest it may increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol, it can also raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol due to its high saturated fat content. Managing cholesterol with coconut oil should be done cautiously and in moderation.

Q: What are the potential benefits of coconut oil for skin and hair?

A: Coconut oil has moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a popular natural remedy for skin conditions. It can improve hydration and reduce symptoms of skin conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis. For hair, coconut oil may reduce protein loss and improve overall hair health.

Q: Is coconut oil a good source of healthy fats?

A: Coconut oil contains primarily saturated fats, including lauric acid. While it may offer certain health benefits, it is not a source of healthy unsaturated fats like those found in olive oil or fatty fish.

Q: Can coconut oil boost the immune system?

A: Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It may offer support to the immune system by helping fend off infections, but its role in overall immune system function is just one aspect to consider.

Q: Are there potential anti-inflammatory effects of coconut oil?

A: Coconut oil has some anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial for skin conditions and potentially other inflammatory issues. However, it should not be relied upon as the sole treatment for chronic inflammatory conditions.

Q: How can coconut oil be used for oral health and teeth whitening?

A: Coconut oil can be used for oil pulling, a traditional oral hygiene method. Swishing a teaspoon or two of coconut oil in the mouth for 15-20 minutes may promote oral hygiene. Still, its teeth-whitening effects are limited and not as effective as commercial whitening products.

Q: Does coconut oil have antioxidant properties?

A: Coconut oil contains antioxidants, particularly virgin coconut oil, which may help combat oxidative stress and protect against certain types of stress and depression. However, it should not replace a diet rich in diverse antioxidant sources.

Q: What are the effects of coconut oil on digestion and gut health?

A: Coconut oil’s antimicrobial properties may promote a healthy gut microbiome by combating harmful gut bacteria. It has the potential to support digestive health, but it should be part of a balanced diet.

Q: Can coconut oil be used as a natural remedy for certain skin conditions?

A: Yes, coconut oil has anti-inflammatory and moisturising properties, making it a natural remedy for skin conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis. It can improve hydration and reduce symptoms when applied topically.

Q: What are the potential benefits of coconut oil for brain health and cognition?

A: Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that may provide an alternative energy source for the brain. Some studies suggest MCTs could improve cognitive performance, but further research is needed for conclusive evidence.

Q: How is coconut oil used in cooking and recipes for health benefits?

A: Coconut oil can be used in various ways in cooking, such as sautéing, frying, baking, and as a substitute for other oils or butter. One can also add it to smoothies, coffee, salad dressings, popcorn, stir-fries, and as a spread or topping. Including coconut oil in recipes can add a delightful coconut flavour and potential health benefits to dishes.

Research Sources

Data by the US department of agriculture on Coconut Oil

The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate paediatric atopic dermatitis: a randomised, double-blind, clinical trial

Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage

Coconut Oil and Immunity: What do we really know about it so far?

Medium-chain triglycerides may improve memory in non-demented older adults: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials.

Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile

Coconut oil has less satiating properties than medium-chain triglyceride oil.

Antistress and antioxidant effects of virgin coconut oil in vivo

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