This article will cast its sights on all of the reported coconut oil health benefits on offer and hold its reputation up to a magnifying glass to determine once and for all just how healthy it truly is. Let’s dive in!
Although coconuts themselves have been cultivated and consumed by humans for thousands of years, it’s really over the past several years that coconut oil has taken the Western world by storm due to its delicious flavor, its versatility, and its applications as an organic cosmetic product.
Whether you’re using it to achieve culinary excellence or simply for cosmetic reasons, the supposed health benefits of this versatile product are reportedly many.
9 Potential Coconut Oil Health Benefits
- Contains Valuable Nutrients: Coconut oil contains many valuable nutrients that are staples to healthy diets. Virgin coconut oil contains high amounts of Vitamin E which is good for both our skin and eyes. It also contains bioactive compounds that have antioxidant properties, such as polyphenol.
- Can Be Used to Treat Some Skin Conditions: Speaking of skin, there is some evidence out there that supports the theory that coconut oil can act as a therapeutic moisturizer and be used to help treat some complex and chronic skin conditions such as xerosis, psoriasis, or eczema.
- Can be Used to Protect Hair: Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which can be utilized to protect hair and prevent further damage. This lauric acid can be harmonious with hair proteins and prevents further hair protein loss. This in turn suggests coconut oil products can be useful in treating damaged hair.
- Can be Used to Against Sun Damage: Some studies carried out into coconut oil health benefits have found results that suggest coconut oil can be used as a UV filter that protects both hair and skin from harmful sun damage.
- Can be Used to Improve Dental Hygiene: Many ancient cultures have used oil pulling as a traditional remedy for toothaches and as a way to improve overall oral health. Recent studies suggest that swirling a tablespoon of coconut oil around your teeth and gums can be a beneficial treatment for many dental maladies. Therefore, coconut oil can be used to combat gingivitis and persistent plaque formation.
- Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Microbial, and Anti-Fungal Properties: The lauric acid content within coconut oil, which we mentioned previously, has been shown to contain anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal attributes.
- Links to Improved Cognitive Function: The fatty acids in coconut oil can encourage your body to not only burn fat but can also give your brain and body a rapid boost of energy. The fatty acids in coconut oil metabolize differently and instead head straight to the liver and are quickly turned into ketones, which are used by the brain as fuel. Therefore, the ketones provided by coconut oil have a range of cognitive benefits and may aid brain function.
- Contains ‘Healthy’ Cholesterols: Coconut oil’s saturated fats can encourage your body to produce higher levels of HDL cholesterol, colloquially referred to sometimes as ‘good’ cholesterol. HDL cholesterols have been linked to better and healthier metabolisms.
- Can Act as an Appetite Suppressant: As we outlined, the fatty acids in coconut oil can help reduce feelings of hunger thanks to the way the body metabolizes these fats into ketones. Ketones have been discovered to have an appetite-reducing effect, which may help you shed a few unwanted pounds down the line.
A large explanation for this extensive range of potential coconut oil health benefits is due to just how coconut oil is composed. Fascinatingly, coconut oil’s molecular structure is entirely different from other oils. This fundamental difference in structure has amazing implications for the human body.
Coconut oil includes many medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA’s), in contrast to other oils which have long-chain fatty acids. What’s significant about these MCFA’s is that they affect how the oil is digested and how this ultimately influences your body.
The Potential Health Risks of Coconut Oil
Whilst we at Utopia firmly believe that a shift towards more organic plant-based diets and cosmetic products is an incredible thing, one must always play the devil’s advocate. Therefore we must ask, just how healthy are these supposed coconut oil health benefits really?
Like many factors in life, coconut oil should be taken in moderation as there are a few potential health risks to pay heed to. As such, we’ve outlined a few of coconut oil’s potential health risks below:
- High Levels of Saturated Fats: Astonishingly, coconut oil contains over 80% of saturated fat. The American Heart Association typically recommends no more than 13g of saturated fats daily. In just one tablespoon of coconut oil, there is 14g of saturated fats. Therefore, it’s not recommended that you consume too much coconut oil as saturated fats have been linked to cardiovascular heart disease, and increased risks of strokes.
- Limited Nutritional Value: On the flip side of the coin, whilst coconut oil’s health benefits include the beneficial Vitamin E and antioxidants, it regrettably contains a stark lack of other nutritious components such as vitamins, minerals, and no fiber.
- The Jury’s Still Out: Whilst many self-styled health gurus will wax lyrical on the health benefits of coconut oil, it nonetheless remains controversial. Many skeptics argue that there’s a lack of verified, peer-reviewed scientific data means that one should be incredibly wary about the amount of coconut oil that they consume.
If you’re concerned about the saturated fat content of coconut oil, you may be pleased to know that there is a wealth of other healthier plant-based oil alternatives, such as:
- Grape Seed
- Extra Virgin Olive
All of these oils contain significantly less amount of saturated fats, although always take care to read the label and adjust according to your dietary requirements.
Knowing Which Coconut Oil To Buy
Of course, not all coconut oil is created the same. While coconut oil has a myriad of uses in the household, consumers that wish to test the potential coconut oil health benefits for themselves might be confused by the different labels, types, and brands found on the supermarket shelves.
The basic rule of thumb is, the type of coconut oil you need depends on exactly what you’re using it for. Different types of coconut oil are suited for specific uses. To aid you in your quest, we’ve broken down the differences between coconut oil types below.
Virgin vs. Extra Virgin
Generally speaking in the US both virgin and extra virgin coconut oils have been pressed from fresh, raw coconuts and don’t include additional chemicals or additives.
There is no legal definition to distinguish between virgin and extra virgin coconut oil in the USA. As a result, the difference is really a marketing ploy used by coconut oil brands. Like with ‘extra virgin olive oil’, many brands use the ‘extra virgin’ label to suggest a healthier product.
Useful characteristics for identifying authentic virgin coconut oil are as follows:
- Nearly colorless.
- Sweet and salty taste
- Strong, aromatic coconut scent.
Refined vs. Unrefined
- Refined Coconut Oil: Has less flavor and fragrance as the creation process involves bleaching. Typically used in deep-fat frying and baking as it can withstand heat better. Be wary as refined coconut oil contains hydrogenated, fatty acids. However, it can withstand higher temperatures, making it better suited for cooking.
- Unrefined Coconut Oil: Is in its purest form, typically always virgin as it has been spared excessive processing and therefore contains no additives. Light coconut taste and aroma. As a liquid it’s clear, but white in a solid state. It’s better suited for cosmetics as it keeps all of its natural enzymes at temperatures below 96°F.
To obtain coconut oil in the first place, the oil must be extracted in some way. When it comes to ‘health foods’ many consumers seek ‘raw’ products as they require less processing and generally have higher nutritional values. This has led to the term being loosely applied to labels by many brands, so be wary of ‘raw’ coconut oils.
To ensure you’re buying a high-quality product, always buy organic, virgin unrefined coconut oil. If possible, prioritize companies that advocate Fair Trade policies and transparency with their creative processes.
Coconut Oil Health Benefits: Our Final Verdict
Whilst some studies suggest that there are merits to the perception of coconut oil as a treatment for various health conditions, such as skin and hair damage. There are, however, much bolder claims, such as its ability to improve cognitive functions and metabolism.
These claims of health benefits require more comprehensive research as there’s no shortage of conflicting results from other human studies. Therefore, when it comes to confidently drawing a line in the sand concerning all of the potential coconut oil health benefits, it’s almost impossible to do as there’s much more scientific research yet to be done.
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