Coconut oil is a natural substance said to offer a host of health benefits. One of the few plant sources of saturated fat, coconut oil contains lauric acid (said to possess antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties) and medium-chain triglycerides (purported to speed up metabolism and promote weight loss).
Why Do People Use Coconut Oil?
Proponents claim that coconut oil offers the following health benefits:
- supports thyroid function
- increases metabolism
- antiviral and antibacterial properties
- improved blood pressure
- improved cholesterol levels
- weight loss
- better diabetes control
- increased bone strength
- better digestion
- prevention of cancer
- hair and skin health
- prevention of heart disease
- stress reduction
- increased immunity
Some research shows that adding coconut oil to your diet may offer certain health benefits, however, there is currently a lack of scientific support for any of the health claims about coconut oil.
Research on the Benefits of Coconut Oil
Some studies suggest that coconut oil may provide these health benefits:
Consuming coconut oil may help fight abdominal obesity, according to a 2009 study from the journal Lipids. For 12 weeks, 40 women with excess belly fat were placed on a diet, told to exercise each day, and given daily supplements containing either soybean oil or coconut oil. Although members of both groups lost weight, women given coconut oil showed a greater decrease in the size of their waistlines.
2) Improved Cholesterol Levels
Preliminary research suggests that coconut oil may help keep cholesterol in check. A 2004 study published in Clinical Biochemistry, for instance, found that rats fed virgin coconut oil (a type of coconut oil produced without the use of chemicals) for 45 days experienced a reduction in their total cholesterol and levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
3) Weight Loss
Tests on mice indicate that combining coconut oil with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) may promote the loss of body fat. However, it's not known whether combining coconut oil and CLA might produce the same health benefits in humans. What's more, it should also be noted that CLA may have negative impact on blood sugar metabolism and possibly contribute to insulin resistance.
How to Use Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can be purchased at most natural-foods stores. When selecting a coconut oil, look for organic, non-GMO coconut oil. Stay away from hydrogenated oil or oil that has been treated with heat, solvents, or bleach. Opting for extra-virgin oil ensures that the coconut oil product has not been refined, bleached, or deodorized. In addition, extra-virgin coconut oil tends to offer a richer flavor than refined coconut oil.
Often used in stir-frying and baking, coconut oil can replace butter as a spread or flavoring agent for bread, oatmeal, popcorn, vegetable dishes, and other foods. Coconut oil can also be added to smoothies and shakes.
In addition to 100% coconut oil, some companies make a product made from the whole coconut, not just the oil, so it also has protein and fiber. It is called coconut butter or coconut manna, and is used in smoothies, shakes, desserts, dressings, and sauces.
American Heart Association. "Fat". Last accessed March 2011.
Assunção ML, Ferreira HS, dos Santos AF, Cabral CR Jr, Florêncio TM. "Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity." Lipids. 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601.
Cox C, Mann J, Sutherland W, Chisholm A, Skeaff M. "Effects of coconut oil, butter, and safflower oil on lipids and lipoproteins in persons with moderately elevated cholesterol levels." J Lipid Res. 1995 Aug;36(8):1787-95.
Cox C, Sutherland W, Mann J, de Jong S, Chisholm A, Skeaff M. "Effects of dietary coconut oil, butter and safflower oil on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and lathosterol levels." Eur J Clin Nutr. 1998 Sep;52(9):650-4.
Hargrave KM, Azain MJ, Miner JL. "Dietary coconut oil increases conjugated linoleic acid-induced body fat loss in mice independent of essential fatty acid deficiency." Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 Oct 15;1737(1):52-60.
Nevin KG, Rajamohan T. "Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation." Clin Biochem. 2004 Sep;37(9):830-5.