Coconut oil has become a staple of the health-conscious diet in the past few months, with almost every healthy living blog touting a wide array of benefits such as skin health, brain health and antioxidant effects.
But is it really as good for you as people think?
A quick peek at the label of any coconut oil container can be worrying for anyone who grew up with the food pyramid, as coconut oil is replete with saturated fats.
Saturated fats are typically associated with a number of cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease, heart attacks, blood clots and irregular heartbeats. This is due to the fact that saturated fats raise cholesterol in your body, both good and bad types.
So why is coconut oil, an oil so dense in fatty acids that it is actually made up of 90% saturated fat, suddenly a huge health fad product? There’s a couple of reasons reasons why coconut oil has become a staple of many a kitchen, despite its high-fat content.
The reason for coconut oil’s popularity lies largely in the structure of coconut oil’s fats. The saturated fats in coconut oil are medium-chain fatty acids, instead of long-chain. These medium-chain fats (also known as medium-chain triglycerides) are digested differently than the harmful long-chain fats found in saturated fats in fast food and desserts, as they are sent to the liver immediately after digestion.
This process makes them more beneficial for a number of reasons, weight loss and brain health among them. Furthermore, there’s a strong possibility that coconut oil can induce weight loss in obese individuals.
In two separate studies, scientists found that obese men and women that supplemented their diet with coconut oil saw a reduction in body fat, especially in the area around the waist. This is all based on simple supplementation with coconut oil — researchers did not change anything else about their exercise routine or diet, which suggests that coconut oil is responsible for the loss of fat and waist circumference.
This is due to the medium-chain structure of coconut oil’s saturated fat.
Furthermore, it appears that these medium-chain fats can also improve brain function. One study from the Journal of Neurobiological Aging found that eating medium-chain fats like those in coconut oil caused an almost instantaneous improvement in brain function in adults in with mild Alzheimer’s.
It seems that not all saturated fats were created equal, and in coconut oil’s case, the saturated fats in coconut oil, it seems, are better than most. They’re definitely better than the ones in your Big Mac.
Coconut oil is dense in lauric acid as well. Lauric acid is one of those “wonder compounds” — one that will probably find its way into fad health supplements in the next few years — due to the large number of benefits it can yield to you.
One of the big things that Lauric acid does is it works as an anti-microbial and anti-fungal agent. When consumed and broken down, lauric acid (along with a byproduct of lauric acid digestion, monolaurin) has been shown to eradicated bacteria, fungus and even viruses.
It has been shown to attack and defeat the powerful bacteria Staphylcoccus Aureus and eliminate the fungus Candida Albicans, one of the biggest dietary maladies amongst Americans today.
At the same time, it has been shown that lauric acid can also decrease bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in the blood, while raising the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in the body. Despite the fact that saturated fats are typically connected to high cholesterol, it seems the saturated fats in coconut oil are actually beneficial to your cardiovascular system.
Since over 50% of the saturated fats in coconut oil are comprised of this lauric acid, it seems that these fats are extremely healthy.
Skin and Hair Care
Besides consuming coconut oil, you can also apply the nutrient-dense substance right to your skin to improve your skin quality.
It has long been used as a moisturizing cream, increasing moisture and smoothness of the skin. There’s also evidence that coconut oil can be used as an effective sunblock, with scientists discerning that coconut oil blocked out about 20% of UV radiation when applied to the skin.
Furthermore, there’s evidence that coconut oil can be used as an effective treatment for haircare. Scientists found that when applied directly to the hair, coconut oil significantly conserved hair proteins for both damaged and undamaged hair.
There seems to be an unspoken consensus amongst health aficionados and medical professionals alike that coconut oil is a powerful nutrient for overall health.
Although many still have reservations about coconut oil because of the high number of saturated fats, recent research suggests that the link between saturated fats and cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke is dubious at best, with many researchers outright concluding that the connection between the two is spurious at best.
In conclusion, it seems like coconut oil is an potent and safe oil for cooking and for topical application, and can address a number of health problems, from obesity to mental health.