Not all oils are harmful to your health. Case in point: natural coconut oil, which, according to research, is good for the brain, heart, and skin, among many other things.
Because of these benefits, coconut oil has become one of the most popular oils in the world. In the UK alone, 17,000 tonnes were imported in 2009. In 2020, this figure jumped to almost 25,000 tonnes.
So if you’re thinking of using coconut oil for cooking (or baking) like the rest of the world, then its benefits should convince you to make the switch.
What is Natural Coconut Oil, Anyway?
Coconut oil is obtained from the coconut tree, which has the scientific name Cocos nucifera.
It is made from 100% fat, 80-90% of which is saturated fat. This makes it ‘solid’ at room temperatures, compared to other kinds of oils.
The biggest producer of coconut oil is the Philippines, followed by Indonesia and India. It is largely used in the United States and Europe, as well as the top 1 and 3 oil-producing countries.
Coconut Oil Nutrition Facts
These are the nutrients you’ll get for every tablespoon (11.6 grams) of coconut oil:
- Calories: 104
- Total fat: 11.5 grams
- Saturated: 9.57 grams
- Calcium: 0.116 mg
- Vitamin E: 0.013 mg
Coconut oil also contains polyphenols, which are antioxidant-rich plant compounds. It also contains catechins, another natural phenol and antioxidant.
Types of Coconut Oils
Coconut oils are categorised according to the coconut ‘meat’ used to make them.
1. Extra Virgin/Virgin Coconut Oil
Made from fresh coconut meat, this coconut oil is made via two methods.
The dry method involves quickly drying mature coconut meat on low heat.
The wet method, on the other hand, uses a machine press to extract coconut milk and oil. The two substances are then separated through fermentation – as well as the use of enzymes and centrifuge machines.
Extra virgin or virgin coconut oil, which is made with a presser machine that uses steam or heat, is labelled as expeller-pressed.
Cold-pressed coconut oil, on the other hand, makes use of a machine that doesn’t use heat. This keeps the oil at 120F, a temperature that helps retain most of its nutrients.
Whatever type of extra virgin/virgin coconut oil you use, all of them have a smoke point of 350F. This temperature makes it ideal for sautéing or baking. On the other hand, it should not be used for deep frying or other methods that involve high heat.
2. Refined Coconut Oil
Made from copra or dried coconut meat, the process makes use of a machine press to extract the oil. Some manufacturers may even use hexane to obtain the oil from copra.
The oil is then ‘deodorized’ through heating or steaming. It is also bleached to remove bacteria and impurities.
Compared to extra virgin/virgin coconut oil, the refined kind has a higher smoke point of 400 to 450F.
3. Hydrogenated Coconut Oil
This type of coconut oil has unsaturated fat that is fully or partially hydrogenated. This extends the oil’s shelf-life, apart from keeping it solid in warm weather.
Unfortunately, hydrogenating coconut oil creates trans fats – a type of fat that can increase your risk for heart disease.
Coconut Oil Benefits
Coconut oil, which you can consume or apply directly to certain body parts, offers the following benefits:
1. Helps Promote Heart Health
According to the study of Assuncao et al, the intake of coconut oil may help increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels in obese female participants.
The higher your HDL levels or ‘good cholesterol’ are, the lesser your risk is for heart disease.
That’s because HDL works by absorbing the cholesterol in your system. It then transports them back to the liver, where it is ‘flushed’ from the body.
Apart from Assuncao et al, Chinwong and colleagues’ study noted the same effects. Those who took 30 ml of coconut oil daily documented a significant increase in HDL levels (average of 5.76 mg/dl).
Additionally, Assucao et al’s study also saw a decrease in the LDL to HDL ratio. Typically, a lower ratio comes with a lower risk for heart disease – a condition that affects about 7.6 million people in the UK.
2. Helps Protect the Brain
Extra virgin coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides that are metabolised by the liver to form ketone bodies. According to a study by Platero et al, these substances may prevent inflammation in the brain, thus protecting it.
Results show that these ketone bodies serve as energy sources, especially in patients with Multiple Sclerosis. This neurodegenerative disease, which to date still has no cure, affects more than 105,000 people in the UK.
The same ketone bodies may also help those with Alzheimer’s disease, which, together with dementia, affects 850,000 in the UK.
According to Orti et al’s study, these ketone bodies provide alternative energy to the cells. The brain normally feeds on glucose, the metabolism of which is reduced in Alzheimer’s disease.
After 21 days of eating a coconut oil-enriched Mediterranean diet, participants exhibited improvements in:
- Episodic orientation or memory of daily events
- Temporal orientation, which involves the critical skill of telling time
- Semantic memory or long-term memory
3. Helps Boost Antioxidant Levels in the Body
Platero et al’s study has not only uncovered the brain-protective effects of coconut oil. Results also show that it plays a role in boosting antioxidant production in the body.
This antioxidative effect is attributed to the ketone bodies that are produced with coconut oil metabolism.
Antioxidants protect the cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. These unstable molecules are produced by the body following exposure to UV rays, pollution, etc.
If left unchecked, free radical reactions may lead to degenerative illnesses such as:
- Atherosclerosis or plaque build-up in the arteries
- Inflammatory joint disease
- Senile dementia
- Degenerative eye disease
4. Helps Fight Infections
Coconut oil may help fight infections, such as the ones caused by Staphylococcus aureus and the fungi Candida albicans. Research shows that these potent effects are caused by monolaurin, a substance the body forms when it digests the lauric acid in coconut oil.
A test-tube study also suggests that the lauric acid in coconut oil helps inhibit the growth of Clostridium difficile. This bacterium, which is oftentimes resistant to most antibiotics, is notorious for causing severe diarrhoea.
Natural coconut oil may help fight viruses too. According to experts, it may help fend off:
- Influenza, the agent behind the flu – a disease that causes 10,000 deaths in the UK yearly
- Cytomegalovirus disease, which can infect most organs if left untreated
- Epstein-Barr virus, which causes infectious mononucleosis in 55% of people in the UK
- Pneumo or respiratory disease viruses
- Hepatitis C virus, which causes liver disease in 0.5-1% of the UK population
Coconut oil may also help fight the Visna virus in sheep and the Leukemia virus in cats.
5. Helps Improve Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Patients
In the UK, breast cancer is the most prevalent malignancy in women. It affects an average of 55,000 every year – which is roughly 150 cases a day.
While a study in test animals suggests that coconut oil may help combat breast and colon cancer, tests on humans are limited. However, additional research has shown that it may help improve the quality of life in such women.
The study featured a group of stage 3 and 4 breast cancer patients. Half of them were given 10 ml of coconut oil a week after the 3rd to 6th chemotherapy cycles.
Results showed that the coconut oil group had higher functioning scores concerning body image, sexual function, and perspective.
After the 6th cycle supplementation, these women also noted lesser instances of fatigue, sleep disturbances, breathing difficulties, and appetite loss.
6. Helps Control Glucose Levels
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is resistant to insulin. This, however, may be reversed with the help of coconut oil.
Additionally, coconut oil may help reduce glucose levels as well.
As noted in a rat study, virgin coconut oil may help prevent the above-mentioned diabetes factors.
Such effects are linked to the oil’s high polyphenol content. These substances help promote the uptake of glucose in the body, thus making it more ‘sensitive’ to insulin.
Coconut oil also has high levels of catechins, which, like polyphenols, may help reduce the body’s insulin sensitivity.
Likewise, the medium-chain fatty acids in this oil may play a role in reducing glucose levels as well.
7. Helps Reduce Fatigue
Too much physical activity can lead to fatigue and possible injury. Apart from rest, the addition of coconut oil may help reduce fatigue.
This benefit was documented in a study of 24 male rats. Those who were fed with coconut oil had lower markers of Urea and Creatine, urine markers that help signify fatigue.
Coconut oil’s ability to reduce fatigue is linked to its antioxidative activity. These substances help increase the production of glutathione, a substance that’s lacking in people with chronic fatigue.
8. Boosts Metabolism and Helps Promote Weight Loss
While coconut oil contains a handful of calories, it can actually help you burn some. As long as you take the right dosage, you can use coconut oil for weight loss.
This metabolic benefit is made possible by its medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Not only are they absorbed quickly absorbed by the body, but they also help burn more calories.
According to a study, 15-30 grams of MCTs can help you burn 120 calories (on average) in just 24 hours.
Coconut oil’s metabolic effects were also noted in the above-mentioned study of Assucao et al.
Results showed that BMI decreased in women who were supplemented with 30 ml of coconut oil (as well as a low-calorie diet and exercise). They also had some waist circumference reduction, compared to the group that was given soybean oil.
The results are not limited to women though. Another study that featured 20 obese men showed that coconut oil supplementation may reduce waist circumference by about 2.86 centimetres.
9. Improves Dental Health
The bacterium Streptococcus mutans can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and plaque.
To get rid of this naturally, you can swish your mouth with 10 ml coconut oil for 10 minutes.
According to a study, this process of oil pulling is just as effective as using 5 ml of Chlorhexidine mouthwash.
As per another study, oil pulling may help prevent plaque formation and gum inflammation (gingivitis) too.
This effect is attributed to lauric acid, which comprises 45 to 50% of coconut oil’s MCT. This substance is known to fight both bacterial infection and inflammation.
10. Promotes Healthier Skin
There are many benefits of coconut oil on the skin.
a) Hydrates Skin
For one, it can moisturise your skin well. You can use it all on your arms, elbows, and legs – even your face, as long as you don’t have oily skin. If not, coconut oil can make the situation worse by potentially clogging your pores.
This risk aside, coconut’s oil moisturising effects are documented in several studies. It was even used in a trial that featured patients with xerosis, a common condition that causes rough, scaly, and dry skin.
As with mineral oil, coconut oil helped improve skin hydration after 2 weeks of continuous use. Those who assessed the patients, however, gave better visual scores to those who used coconut oil.
Given the many variants available in the market, choose the extra virgin kind as it’s the best coconut oil for skin use.
b) Helps Relieve Atopic Dermatitis
Coconut oil may also help relieve atopic dermatitis (AD), which causes dry skin, severe itching, and subsequent infection. This disease has a high prevalence in the UK, affecting 11-20% of children and 5-10% of adults in the country.
As mentioned, coconut oil use produces monolaurin, a potent anti-bacterial substance. A study has shown that after 4 weeks, only 1 coconut oil user had symptoms, compared to 6 in the virgin olive oil group.
Promising results were also noted in a study of children with mild-moderate AD. Results show that the SCORAD, which is used to grade the severity of AD, was 68% lower in the coconut oil group. The mineral oil group, on the other hand, only showed a 38% decrease in the SCORAD grade.
The recommended dose for atopic dermatitis is 10 ml of coconut oil divided into 2 equal doses. The oil should be applied to the affected areas for approximately 8 weeks.
c) Helps Protect the Skin from UV Rays
According to a study, coconut oil can help protect you from 20% of the sun’s harmful UV rays. This gives coconut oil anequivalent SPF of about 7.
That said, you shouldn’t use it alone. It’s best to add it to your conventional sunscreen since this product effectively blocks 90% of the sun’s rays.
11. Helps Provide Mosquito Protection
Mosquito bites can bring a variety of diseases, from malaria to dengue haemorrhagic fever.
One of the ways to prevent such bites is to apply insect repellent regularly. Given that most products are made with chemical agents, more and more people are looking for natural alternatives.
Coconut oil is one of the products that offer such promise.
According to a Thai study, Ylang-ylang oil in coconut oil provides 98.9% protection from mosquito bites – for a whopping 88 minutes!
12. Improves Hair Health
There are many coconut oil benefits for the hair.
a) Moisturises Hair
As with the skin, you can use this oil to moisturise dry or frizzy hair. Compared to other oils, it can help reduce protein loss in damaged hair.
A study has shown that this benefit is made possible by coconut oil’s lauric acid content. It binds well to hair proteins, meaning it can penetrate the hair structure easily compared to other hair oils.
To get this benefit, all you need to do is apply a small amount of coconut oil to the hair shaft. Leave it for a few minutes (even overnight if you want) before washing it away.
b) Helps Fight Lice Infestation
Apart from nourishing your hair, coconut oil may help get rid of lice infestation – all thanks to its antimicrobial properties.
For those who wish to stay away from insecticides, using coconut oil shampoo may help kill the lice on your hair (except for the eggs).
For best results, shampoo your hair with coconut oil four times – spaced three days apart. As always, don’t forget to use a clean comb and keep your environment clean!
Is it Good to Consume Coconut Oil Daily?
Yes, but you should only take a limited amount every day.
The American Heart Association only recommends limiting saturated fat intake to just 13 grams a day. This is equivalent to a spoonful of coconut oil.
While coconut oil is healthy, it does contain 80% saturated fat – 47% of which is lauric acid. When taken in excess, this could increase the levels of bad cholesterol – which may then lead to heart disease.
So if you’re planning on taking coconut oil for medicinal purposes, you shouldn’t worry because the National Institutes of Health states that it is safe to consume coconut oil in the short term. And by safe, it means adhering to the recommended dose that is 10 ml two to three times daily for 12 weeks.
What are the Side Effects of Coconut Oil?
Taking 30 ml of coconut oil every day may lead to mild diarrhoea, as noted in the study of Chinwong et al.
Likewise, consuming high amounts of coconut oil may lead to a spike in your cholesterol levels.
Although coconut oil is generally safe, there are some precautions you need to keep in mind:
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid coconut oil in the meantime since there is not enough research to prove its safety in childbearing women.
- You should only apply coconut oil on the skin of children aged 1 month and above.
How to Use Coconut Oil in Cooking
Coconut oil has a melting point of 78F. Should you have liquefied oil, make sure to stir it before using it.
There are so many coconut oil uses for cooking. For one, you can use it to sauté vegetables. You can also add it to curries or sauces to enhance flavour.
You can even make ‘healthy mayonnaise’ by using coconut oil instead of soybean oil and sugar. If you like, you can use it to make a healthy, sugar-free bar of dark chocolate.
If you plan on cooking coconut oil dishes, use 25% of what you normally would when cooking with butter or other oils. That’s because coconut oil has a high amount of solid fat compared to other types of shortening.
If you don’t want to have a coconutty flavour for your recipe, you may want to use virgin olive oil instead.
How to Store Coconut Oil
Make sure to store your coconut oil in a sealed container. For best results, keep it in a cool, dry place.
Shelf life depends on the type of coconut oil. The refined ones can only last for a couple of months, while virgin coconut oil can last for 2-3 years if stored well.
It’s time to throw your coconut oil away if it has any of these signs of spoilage:
- Yellow tint
- “Off” taste or smell
Coconut oil, which is extracted from the tree Cocos nucifera, comes in various types: Extra virgin/virgin, refined, and hydrogenated.
There are many coconut oil benefits, specifically for the heart and brain. It also helps boost antioxidant levels – apart from fighting certain infections.
Coconut oil may also help control glucose levels, reduce fatigue, and promote dental health.
Apart from improving one’s metabolism, coconut oil can also do wonders for the skin and hair.
It’s safe to consume coconut oil daily by using it as cooking oil or adding it to sauces and curries. However, as per the American Heart Association Guidelines, it’s best to keep the intake below 13 grams a day. This is approximately equivalent to about a tablespoonful of coconut oil.
While there are no severe side effects associated with coconut oil, consuming too much of it (30 ml) may lead to diarrhoea.
To make the most out of your coconut oil, remember to store it in a cool, dry place.