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We all know that coconut oil is popular and a must-have go-to for pretty much anything. Dry elbows? Coconut oil. Trying keto? Coconut oil. Needless to say, it’s pretty great. But do you know exactly what is so awesome about it? Here are some of the unique beneficial properties and health benefits of coconut oil.
In this article:
First Thing's First: The Basics of Coconut Oil
Before we get into the details, let's break down what we're really talking about here. Coconut oil - or at least virgin and extra-virgin coconut oil - is made using the meat of the coconut (unlike coconut water, which is simply poured out of the center of the coconut). The meat is scooped out and cold-pressed to extract the oil.
The result? An oil that's:
- Antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial.
- Said to help blast belly fat, curb appetite, strengthen the immune system, increase weight loss, help yeast infections, and even stave off dementia and Alzheimers.
- Comprised primarily of saturated fats, though these fats are primarily medium-chain, which are easier to process than long-chain fatty acids.
- Said to boost HDL cholesterol, or "good" cholesterol.
With those basics in mind, here are some particular properties and health benefits to keep in mind:
1. Over 50% MCTs
MCTs, or medium-chain triglycerides, are a type of medium-chain fatty acid (MCFAs) that doesn’t necessarily convert to fat in the body. Instead, MCTs are used as energy, and they’re really good to induce more fat burning.
In other words, MCT triglycerides can - somewhat counterintuitively - actually help you lose weight and improve your heart health. As calories, these fatty acids are also typically used right away, and they are very rarely stored a fat.
MCTs are also very friendly to your liver and gallbladder. Digesting this fat doesn’t involve a lot of bile or a lot of work from the liver. Instead, it immediately goes right into the lymph system through your intestines, and it’s used right away for energy.
These health benefits make coconut oil healthy fat for anyone with liver problems or gallbladder issues.
2. Lauric Acid
There are only two or three common foods - palm oil, coconut oil, and breast milk - that are rich in lauric acid. And this is something that you do want to incorporate into your diet.
Lauric acid (and capric acid) is a very powerful anti-viral and anti-microbial type of fat. It helps decrease viruses, it helps your immune system and it’s really good for candida and funguses. So it’s a good thing for your immune system.
3. Good For Ketosis
When you get into ketosis, you need a snack that’s high in fat to help you to go from one meal to the next. That’s one of the reasons that I provide a lot of recipes on how to make delicious, filling keto fat bombs.
These recipes are to give people ideas on how to camouflage coconut oil. Because, the thing is, you need it.
Why, exactly? The whole point of ketosis is that you want to burn fat instead of sugar for fuel. It’s a more efficient and natural source of fuel, and it will make you feel better and leaner over time.
This, somewhat counterintuitively, requires a diet high in fat (and very low in carbohydrates). Why? Because fat is the only macronutrient that doesn’t spike insulin, or sugar, in the body. Both protein and carbohydrates do cause a spike. What’s worse - even if you do consume high-fat meals, any large meal will cause some spike, even if it’s small. So you want to combine a keto diet with intermittent fasting.
The keto part will reduce insulin spikes from proteins and carbs, while the fasting part will prevent spikes that come from eating large meals.
It’s worth it, but it’s tough - and little snacks high in coconut oil will help get you through. They’ll help you consume more fat to allow you to not be so hungry as you fast and go from one meal to the next.
4. Helps Cholesterol
Some studies suggest that coconut oil promotes good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) and that it can help improve your cholesterol profiles. One study, in particular, found that coconut oil reduced total LDL cholesterol (or bad cholesterol) and increased HDL (good cholesterol) in a group of 40 women.
5. Improves Dental Health
A few years ago, a practice called oil pulling became very popular in the US. The practice has been popular in India and traditional Ayurvedic medicine for generations. It’s supposed to lead to less dental disease along with stronger teeth and gums.
So how does it work? The idea is to swish about a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil around your mouth for 20 minutes before you eat breakfast in the morning.
Sounds like a long time, I know, but the practice really works.
- Damage the cell wall of microorganisms in the mouth and kill them
- Remove bacteria responsible for dental caries, gingivitis, periodontitis, and bad breath
- Resolve bleeding gums and allow gums to become pinker and healthier
- Resolve symptoms of dry mouth and dry throat
- Whiten teeth and freshen breath
That said, it’s not meant to replace your existing dental care practices. It’s supposed to complement them.
6. Soothes Skin Concerns
Applying coconut oil as a moisturizer has also become pretty popular in recent years, especially as people try to avoid parabens and other potentially harsh ingredients.
This, too, has some tried-and-true benefits:
- Studies show that, when applied to dry skin, virgin coconut oil can truly improve the moisture content of the skin. It can also help prevent transepidermal water loss, which is largely responsible for dry skin.
- It can soothe conditions like dermatitis and eczema
- It can provide anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits by suppressing inflammatory markers in the skin
- It can even work as a mild sunscreen for skin and hair, blocking about 20% of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. That’s not enough to replace normal sunscreen, of course, but it is certainly worth noting.
7. Saturated Fats
Okay, so what's the deal with the saturated fats here? The American Heart Association has firmly come out against saturated fats, claiming that they can cause coronary heart disease (CHD) and other serious health concerns.
The reality, though, is that these claims are based on faulty information. The CHD doesn't have anything to do with the saturated fats themselves. Instead, it's the saturated fats combined with carbohydrates that actually cause a problem in these studies.
Saturated fat on its own is not a bad thing. In fact:
- It’s very stable
- It will not increase bad cholesterol
- It will not clog your arteries
- It’s not the type of fat that will cause heart attacks, insulin resistance, or anything like that.
How Do You Find Great Coconut Oil
Just like with anything else, keep in mind that all coconut oils were not created equal. If you want to get high concentrations of:
- Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs)
- Vitamin E
Then you need to look for cold-pressed virgin or extra virgin coconut oil (not a refined or hydrogenated coconut oil). This oil is extracted directly from the coconuts without applying heat or exposing the oil to direct sunlight and chemical processes. There is also no filtration, refining, or bleaching involved.
Coconut Oil vs Other Oils?
Now, how does virgin coconut oil stack up to other popular plant-based oils like olive oil, and which should you choose?
Well, the one thing to keep in mind here is that olive oil isn't better than coconut (or vice versa). They're just different, and they serve different purposes in the body.
Coconut oil, on one hand, has lauric acid, keto-friendly fats, and other benefits listed above. Olive oil, conversely, is heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory, and full of healthy phytonutrients.
In particular, olive oil has:
- Omega-6 fatty acids, which have a strong anti-inflammatory function
- Monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid, which are considered healthy dietary fats linked to lower risk of heart disease, lower total cholesterol, and lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels
So, again, it all depends on what you're looking for and what you need for the body.
In summary, coconut oil is good for the immune system, good for fat burning, good for energy, and it also helps you get into ketosis, or fat burning.
If you haven’t already, give it a try. Click the link and I have some recipes for you called keto fat bombs that will help you start eating coconut oil today.
Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.