Fats and oils have long been hot topics in the health and wellness world. From the extra virgin olive oil craze to new trends toward avocado and coconut oil, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest science and decide what’s best for your family.
You’ve likely seen coconut oil on the shelf at the grocery store, and we bet you also have a few personal care products that list it as an ingredient in your home. This trending oil is everywhere, from skin moisturizers to hair conditioners to massage oils and eyelash serums.
So, is it healthy?
Below, we highlight what coconut oil is and explain its common uses. We also explore the nutrition of coconut oil and dive deeper into some common health claims. You may be surprised by what the science (or lack thereof) says about the health benefits of coconut oil!
What is Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat, wick, and milk of coconut palm fruits. It is white in colour and can be a solid fat (like dairy butter) or clear liquid oil, depending on the temperature, its intended uses, and the amount of processing.
Coconut oil is typically available in refined and unrefined options. For this reason, it can have either a mild coconut flavour and aroma or be processed to reduce the natural taste and smell.
You will likely find many different types and brands of coconut oil at your local grocery and health food stores. If you don’t see it in the cooking oils section, check the organic and international food aisles (where it used to hide before it began trending as a superstar health product).
Most Common Uses for Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has a variety of uses, though you may be shocked to find that it is not actually a cure-all for ailments or a quick fix for health concerns like weight management.
We will share the science on coconut oil’s common health claims later, but for now, we’ll focus on the many ways you can utilize it in your household, including:
Using coconut oil for cooking is one of the most popular ways to incorporate it into your household. Many people like that coconut oil is plant-based with a mild flavour and high smoke point. People on a ketogenic or paleo diet also praise its high-fat content.
In cooking, coconut oil is suitable for light stir frying but should not be used for deep frying. It also does not work well in marinades or salad dressings due to its solid state at room temperature. However, its firm texture when cool makes it a great substitution for butter in plant-based baking.
Applying Coconut Oil to the Skin
While more research is needed to confirm that coconut oil is an effective moisturizer, many people find that it provides a natural solution for their dry skin.
Some even swear by it to boost their appearance, treat eczema, relieve sunburn, improve chapped lips, and treat cracked heels. Others use it as a makeup remover and deodorant.
Applying Coconut Oil to Hair
Though some studies are exploring coconut oil’s ability to penetrate and strengthen hair stands, additional research is also required to confirm the benefits of coconut oil for hair. However, many people enjoy applying coconut oil directly on their locks to keep them long, hydrated, and shiny. Others find it provides a natural remedy for dandruff.
Using Coconut Oil as Personal Lubrication
“Can you use coconut oil as lube” is a more common question than you think, and the answer is: you can! That said, it is important to ensure you are not using coconut oil that may be harnessing bacteria or full of additives.
Dedicate a jar for "bedroom use only," and try to keep dirty hands out of the container. Also, ensure that you store it correctly and do not use it if it smells rancid. Finally, be sure to use a small amount only and always seek 100% unrefined coconut oil without fragrances or preservatives.
IMPORTANT: oil-based lubricants can degrade latex condoms. Always use a water or silicone-based lubricant if you and your partner(s) rely on condoms to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Nutrition in Coconut Oil
Despite coconut oil being marketed as health-promoting, the nutrition facts may underwhelm you. In a one-tablespoon serving, coconut oil has 117 calories and 14 grams of fat (12 of which are saturated). In addition, it contains only trace amounts of monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and plant sterols.
Coconut oil is primarily fat, which means it has many smaller molecules called fatty acids. Adding some fatty acids to your diet is fantastic, but unfortunately, coconut oil isn’t an abundant way to consume them. In reality, you would need to eat way more coconut oil than recommended in order to see a significant health impact.
Coconut oil is often praised for its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and their impact on energy and the body. However, while coconut oil's MCT may very well have health benefits, research on the topic has focused primarily on 100% MCTs rather than commercially available coconut oil.
Based on the current evidence available, it may be too early to conclude whether coconut oil is truly a healthy option for you and your family. However, you may find that you enjoy it for cooking, moisturizing, conditioning, and lubricating. Like all good things, just be sure to use it in moderation, do your research, and make decisions that you deem best for you and your loved ones.
Potential Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
While coconut oil isn’t exactly packed with nutrition (and many common beliefs about the health benefits are not yet adequately supported), research suggests that it could be anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. However, studies have been limited, and additional research is required. For that reason, we do not recommend relying on coconut oil completely for any ailment or health goal. Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist first if you have a health concern.
Coconut Oil as an Anti-inflammatory
As coconut oil is a source of antioxidants, it has the potential to be anti-inflammatory. This is because antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and ward off chronic and degenerative diseases.
Due to the high caloric and fat qualities of coconut oil, we recommend that you use it as part of a well-balanced diet rich in a variety of other antioxidant-rich food sources.
Coconut Oil as an Antimicrobial
Due to the lauric acid (a fatty acid) in coconut oil, research suggests it may have antimicrobial effects against microorganisms that cause disease. Specifically, lauric acid may act in a way that prevents bacteria from multiplying, inhibit its growth, or destroy it completely.
While keeping bacteria in check is positive, coconut oil should be used in moderation and complement a well-balanced diet.
Cautions with Coconut Oil
As studies related to the use of coconut oil for health are primarily small, animal-based, and/or inconclusive, it is important to be very wary of health claims. Many sources will support claims that coconut oil helps with weight loss, improves brain function, increases energy, positively impacts cholesterol levels, and more.
In most cases, further research is needed to investigate the potential benefits of coconut oil use for adults, children, and pets. Therefore, always do your research and speak to your doctor or pharmacist before using coconut oil as a health remedy for yourself or your family members – both two-legged and four-legged!
Were you surprised by any of the interesting facts and science about coconut oil? Let’s recap!
Coconut oil is a plant-based oil extracted from the coconut palm fruit. It can be refined or unrefined, which impacts the texture, flavour, and aroma. It is prized for its high smoke point and neutral flavour, making it an option to try in cooking in baking. Many people also enjoy applying coconut oil to their skin and hair or using it as a personal lubricant.
While coconut oil is a favourite for people on a ketogenic or paleo diet, it is primarily saturated fat with only trace amounts of monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, plant sterols, and fatty acids. It is also a high-calorie food, making it suitable only in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet.
Research is currently lacking regarding the health benefits of coconut oil. Particularly related to medium-chain triglycerides, weight loss, brain health, cholesterol, and more. However, there is some evidence that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
For now, it is too early to say with confidence if coconut oil is worthy of all the good publicity it has been receiving, but we also aren't ruling it out completely. It can be a fantastic addition to your kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom – in moderation, of course.
Have a Health Question? Ask Cook’s Pharmacy!
Do you have a question about coconut oil or other family health matters? Cook’s Pharmacy is here to help! We have a friendly team of knowledgeable pharmacists who are happy to provide guidance and other pharmacy services.
Reach out to us today for all your pharmacy needs! You can also drop by one of our locations in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, North Dumfries, or Wellesley.
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| Poshin Jobanputra |
November 16, 2023