Coconut Oil: Is It Good for You?

Coconut oil has gained popularity in the last several years across the globe. It has a wide range of uses, from hair products to foods to sunscreen to deodorant. Its tasty flavor and adaptable properties make it the perfect ingredient to add to many different products. 

Coconut oil comes from the coconuts on coconut palm trees (Cocos nucifera). There are two main types of coconut oil, copra oil and virgin coconut oil. Although they have similar fatty acid content, virgin coconut oil contains higher amounts of nutrients such as Vitamin E and bioactive compounds such as polyphenols (plant materials that have antioxidant properties).

Coconut oil has many nutrients that can contribute to your health and to a good diet. It’s full of fatty acids that your body needs and may help improve cognitive function, metabolism, and hair and skin health.

Nutrition Information

One serving of coconut oil (1 tablespoon) contains the following:

The following nutrients and minerals are found in coconut oil:

Potential Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has properties that can help treat many different health conditions, from hair and skin damage to poor cognitive function and metabolism. Here is more information about the potential health benefits of coconut oil:

Weight Loss

Lauric acid is a type of saturated fat found in coconut oil, and in fact, this oil contains the highest levels of lauric acid in a natural source. Studies have shown that lauric acid travels to the liver and is converted into energy instead of being stored in your body as fat, which could potentially help in weight loss. However, more information is needed to confirm that coconut oil specifically contributes to weight loss and improved metabolism.

Improved Skin and Hair Health

Many people are now incorporating coconut oil in products for cosmetic reasons, for their hair, skin, nails, and teeth. The substance has been found to be a safe and effective moisturizer for conditions like xerosis, or rough, dry skin. In addition, coconut oil can decrease protein loss in your hair, improving your hair health.

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Boosts Good Cholesterol Levels

Not all cholesterol is bad. Coconut oil has been found to increase levels of HDL cholesterol, also known as “good cholesterol,” in some women, while lowering the bad type, LDL cholesterol.

Improved Brain Function

More research is needed to fully link consuming coconut oil to better cognitive function. However, the chemicals found in the oil, particularly ketones, have been associated with reducing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms by providing other energy sources for damaged brain cells. 

Potential Risks of Coconut Oil

Taken in moderation and used as a topical agent for moisturizing, coconut oil can provide many benefits. Still, there are a few potential health risks to be aware of, including the amount of saturated fat the oil contains. Here are some other potential health risks of coconut oil:

Increased Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke

Even though some studies have shown that coconut oil can boost good cholesterol and lower the bad, other studies have shown that compared to other oils like olive oil, coconut oil raised harmful LDL cholesterol levels. High levels of LDL cholesterol can raise your risk of developing heart diseases or suffering from a stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day in your diet. As stated earlier, coconut oil contains more than that (14 grams) in one serving, meaning it’s easy to overdo saturated fat in your diet when you consume coconut oil. Too much saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol, increasing risks of heart disease and stroke.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Heart Association: “Saturated Fat.”

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: “Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol.”

Dermatitis: “A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Oil, coconut.”

Ghana Medical Journal: “Coconut oil and palm oil’s role in nutrition, health and national development: A review.”
Journal of the American College of Nutrition: “Health Effects of Coconut Oil—A Narrative Review of Current Evidence.”

Journal of Cosmetic Science: “Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage.”

Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society: “The Properties of Lauric Acid and Their Significance in Coconut Oil.”

Lipids: “Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity.”

Nutrition Reviews: “Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Coconut Oil.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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