NUTRITION GUIDELINES

What Are the Real Benefits of Coconut Oil?

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
 | 
August 18, 2017

Many people tout the health benefits of coconut oil, but it's a saturated fat, which isn‘t good for you. Read more to learn if there are benefits.

Cardiologists aren’t fans of coconut oil. Eating less saturated fat — the kind in meat, dairy products from cow’s milk, and coconut oil — is essential to avoid heart disease. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) has concluded that you can match the benefits of taking a statin drug by replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils. This bad news for meat-eaters isn’t new, but the AHA’s report ruffled feathers by coming out against coconut oil, which contains more saturated fat than butter, palm oil, and lard, at 82 percent, and increases your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, a measure of your heart disease risk.

Is coconut oil good for you?

The trouble is that diet gurus have declared coconut oil an exception to the rule against saturated fat. Fans drink “bullet coffee” — loaded with the oil and butter — and you’ll hear any number of claims about the health benefits of coconut oil: that it can help your thyroid, or protect against dementia, arthritis, and diabetes.

 

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Not so fast.

None of those touted "health" benefits of coconut oil are established. Is coconut oil good for you? The answer seems to be “not especially.”

Coconut oil weight loss

The most common and investigated claim is that it’ll help you lose weight.

People who consider coconut oil a superfood point out that it contains “medium-chain fatty acids.” According to a 2015 review of 13 trials, eating these medium-chain acids instead of long-chain acids, which you get from vegetable oils and fatty fish, promotes weight and fat loss. Early research came from Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, a professor of nutrition at Columbia University. However, as she points out, she didn’t study coconut oil, which is only partly medium-chain acids. Medium-chain acids may help you feel energetic on fewer calories and eat less.

That might be a reason to eat coconut oil, but within the limit for saturated fat. The AHA recommends no more than a tablespoon a day of saturated fat for a person eating the standard 2,000 calories a day.

Uses for coconut oil

You can cook with coconut oil, replacing other oils, as long as you don’t over-do it. If you’ve already bought a bottle, and decide not to use it to cook, don’t throw it out. There are many other uses for coconut oil. It works as a hair conditioner, skin treatment, or shaving or massage oil.

Hair. Melt your coconut paste by running the jar under the warm water. After shampooing, apply a generous amount of the oil to wet strands. Next, twist longish hair into a bun. Let the twist sit for at least five minutes before rinsing. You’ll add moisture and shine to your hair, though be careful not to overdo it.

To tame frizz, apply a pea-size amount to the bottom two inches of your hair.

Skin. In solid form, coconut paste works as a moisturizer after a shower. Let it sink into your warm skin. It can also work as a cuticle softening, or under-eye cream. For a massage mix, you might add a favorite scent — lavender is calming.  

Lip balm. Put some into a spare contact lens holder you can keep in your purse.

Makeup remover. Much gentler than harsh chemicals, coconut oil removes most makeup.

Shaving oil. Try shaving with coconut oil outside the shower.

Baby care. Some people use coconut oil to help an infant’s skin problems, including not just diaper rash, but itchy scalp (also called “cradle cap”), dry skin, acne, and bug bites. Check with your pediatrician.

Dog care. Some people feed their dogs coconut oil in daily meals — to garner a wide array of supposed benefits. Check with your veterinarian.

 

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Updated:  

August 18, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN