Coconut oil has solidified its place in our society’s health and beauty regimens in recent years, but what is all the fuss about? It’s a nutritious addition to your meal plans, but, remember to treat it the same way you would any other oil or fat source.
Health benefits associated with coconut oil stem from research using a formulation of the oil made from 100 percent medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is not the formulation you will typically find on grocery store shelves, but grocery coconut oil has nutritional and immune value, as well.
1. May Boost Energy
The MCTs we talked about provide a readily available energy supply because instead of going through your blood to the tissues that need them, like muscle or fat, they go right to the liver, much like carbohydrates do. This energy boost is why MCTs have been used in sports products marketed to athletes. It’s important to note that not all triglycerides in store-bought coconut oil are MCTs, however. The oils also contain lauric acid, which is absorbed and metabolized like other long-chain fatty acids — more slowly.
2. May Help Burn Fat
Most saturated fats are divided into three groups: long-chain, medium-chain and short-chain. Coconut oil is special in that it includes those medium-chain triglycerides. There is evidence that MCTs can increase the number of calories your body burns, in addition to giving you that boost of energy.
Coconut oil fats are 65% MCTs, which may allow the body to burn fat faster. Excessive fat in the body can lead to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and even cancer. However, more studies are needed to show coconut oil’s weight loss potential.
3. May Keep You Feeling Fuller Longer
Another aspect of coconut oil that could lead to weight loss is that it fills you up. MCTs have been shown to help people eat less, possibly due to how the body breaks them down, producing ketones which can decrease appetite by altering hunger-inducing hormone levels. Again, more studies are needed to show that coconut oil, itself, can function in this capacity.
4. May Have Antimicrobial Effects
MCTs don’t just burn fat, they also have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. This is because they are made up of 50% lauric acid which helps defend against several types of harmful micro-organisms by preventing them from multiplying. Studies have found it can even destroy some harmful bacteria, in addition to slowing their growth.
In fact, oil pulling — a practice where people use coconut oil as a mouthwash — increases oral hygiene, according to studies. It reduces harmful bacteria in your mouth when compared to regular mouthwash. The lauric acid interacts with your natural saliva to form a soap-like substance that reduces plaque and gum inflammation, in addition to helping prevent cavities.
5. May Reduce Risk of Seizures
Studies have shown that a keto diet — high in fats and low in carbohydrates — can help treat epilepsy, and decrease the frequency of seizures by reducing the amount of glucose to fuel brain cells. While more research is needed, reducing carbs in your diet does reduce the glucose levels in your blood. The increased ketones can be used as an alternate energy source for the brain. Recent studies have found that the MCTs in coconut oil get transferred to the liver and turned into these ketones.
6. May Keep Skin Healthy
But coconut oil is not just for eating. Studies have found the oil boosts the moisture content of dry skin, and can even improve the skin’s function by helping to prevent water loss and protecting the skin from outside chemicals and allergens. It can also reduce symptoms of atopic dermatitis — a chronic skin disease in which the skin is inflamed due to defects in skin barrier function.
Pertinent to today’s world, one study found that just six drops of virgin coconut oil applied to the hands overnight can prevent damage caused by using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
7. May Protect Your Hair
And it’s not only skin; coconut oil penetrates hair strands to make them stronger and more flexible which can prevent them from breaking. One study found that the oil actually nourishes hair. Say goodbye to that ponytail frizz and hello to luscious locks.
8. Could Reduce Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
In the same way that coconut oil’s MCTs provide ketones that defend against epileptic seizures, these ketones may also help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. They provide an energy source for brain cells that is not glucose, bypassing any damage the glucose could do.
9. Full of Antioxidants
And even when not fighting off specific conditions, coconut oil is simply full of antioxidants. These neutralize free radicals, and help stave off many diseases caused by cell degeneration. In particular, antioxidants in coconut oil may help protect the brain and provide anti-inflammatory properties.
The varied benefits of coconut oil are still emerging, so long as people enjoy it in moderation. You can incorporate it into your diet by using a couple tablespoons to stir-fry your nightly veggies. It can also be used to coat poultry or meat before adding seasonings and popping it in the oven. And if you’re just looking for a snack, consider drizzling the oil on your popcorn, instead of butter. In fact, in any recipe, coconut oil can be used instead of butter or other oil. And if you prefer to drink it, the oil can be added in small amounts to any coffee or tea.
So, eat up and enjoy the healthy effects of this burgeoning oil.
Darlena Cunha is a freelance writer and a professor at the University of Florida, with degrees in communications and ecology.
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