Is Coconut Oil All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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Is Coconut Oil All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

I admit I was late to join the coconut oil craze, but it’s quickly become a staple in my pantry—and not just because it’s delicious.

Still, coconut oil is very high in saturated fat (about 90%)—a type of fat that has, for quite some time, been associated with elevated blood cholesterol levels and increased heart disease risk. The Dietary Guidelines tells us to limit this nutrient, yet a growing body of research has caused a rethink of whether or not saturated fat deserves such a bad rep. So what is the deal with coconut oil then?

While it’s high in saturated fat, we know that not all saturated fats are created equal—and this is where some of the believed health benefits of coconut oil come into play.

To simplify things, here’s an overview of some of the coconut oil’s most noteworthy benefits:

Easy-to-Use Energy Source

Lauric acid, the predominant saturated fat in coconut oil, is a medium-chain fatty acid. The body uses these types of fatty acids differently than the long-chain fatty acids that make up a large percentage of other dietary fats. Medium-chain fatty acids are processed by the liver and are quickly converted into energy by our cells, which is why studies like this one from 2003, and another from 2008, suggest that these particular fatty acids may be beneficial for weight loss––in moderation of course.

Good Cholesterol Booster

As far as blood cholesterol levels are concerned, consumption of solid fats that are rich in lauric acid, like coconut oil, have been linked to increases in both “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels. Which means, although your “bad” cholesterol may go up, so your good cholesterol will increase, too. And evidence suggests coconut oil may have a neutral, or even slightly beneficial effect, on cholesterol levels when used in place of other saturated, or trans-fats.

Antimicrobial & Antioxidant Advantages

Coconut oil has long been revered for its bug-fighting properties. Though more research needs to be done in this area, coconut oil contains compounds shown to prevent or fight certain viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, such as the flu, bronchitis, yeast infections, acne, and more. Additionally, coconut oil, particularly unrefined or virgin coconut oil, contains phenolic compounds which may offer health-protective, antioxidant properties.

Convenient for Cooking

As far as cooking is concerned, coconut oil works well in a variety of dishes and is particularly good for baked goods and medium-heat sautes. The mild taste makes it a popular choice for curries or other dishes that benefit from a hint of tropical flavor.

A Simple Skincare Solution

In the bathroom, coconut oil can serve as a gentle makeup remover and moisturizer, especially during cold winter months when skin is more susceptible to dryness and irritation.

So, is coconut oil all it’s cracked up to be?

Due to its high lauric acid content, virgin coconut oil is a great substitute for other types of saturated fats, such as lard and butter, and trans fats, such as vegetable shortening. But coconut oil is still a fat, and all fats are calorie-dense, so it’s best when used in moderation.

Which brings me to my next point. It’s great for cooking, but it’s probably best not to rely on just one cooking oil. Using it in addition to other types of cooking oils will not only produce better results depending on the type of dish you’re preparing, but will also provide a variety of other important fats, like heart-healthy Omega-3s.

Bottom Line: If it’s not in your kitchen cabinet already, consider adding coconut oil to your collection.

Purchasing Tip: Choosing unrefined, or virgin, coconut oil will provide the most benefits since processing practices can cancel out some of its favorable properties.

Do you use coconut oil at home? What are some of your favorite ways to use it?

Related

  • Eleanor

    I bought coconut oil to see if it would be a suitable substitution for butter in pie crust. It is! In fact, the pie crusts I have made with just coconut oil have been light, flaky, and absolutely delicious. I am also using it as part of a hair oil treatment. So far, no complaints.

  • KimSt

    I love using coconut oil to do scrambled eggs and pop popcorn especially. It gives it a great taste.

  • 25teri

    I have been using coconut oil for years in just about everything. I have a tub in the kitchen for cooking and baking and keep extra tubs in bathroom for moisturing hair and skin. It doesn’t have an overpowering odour or taste. It just melts away without leaving anything greasy or sticky. Coconut milk is an excellent addition to rice. Gives it a wonderful aroma and a mild flavour. I just love coconuts!

  • Marv50

    Perfect for oil pulling prior to brushing your teeth.

    • JTTLC

      How do you melt it down in order to use it for pulling? I have heard of this method, but have never picked a specific oil to try doing it with. All the others seem like they would make me gag a little. This oil seems to be more mild. Thanks!

      • Linda Schwebach Stroth

        I use it for oil pulling and the taste is very mild. The oil will melt in your mouth immediately due to the heat. (Actually since I live in South FL my coconut oil is always liquid.) Make sure when you are done, to spit it out in the garbage and not the sink. It could harden in the pipes again due to temperature change.

        • janae

          Thank you SO MUCH for saying that, Linda!!! You’re advice is really helpful to me!! i have always been spitting it out in the sink and then wondering why my sink gets clogged days later from the build up. Never again. I’ll spit it out in the garbage now:D

        • Bvdvyd

          Please, please, please do not get carried away with using oils orally thinking they are going to”cure” any oral diseases or infections, including cavities. NOTHING replaces flossing daily and brushing. It’s all about subgingival and interproximal bacteria and NO rinse will pull anything out of subgingival areas, nor remove calculus. Also Research hydroxyfluroapatite (I think I’m spelling that right) crystals making up structures of enamel and how to prevent/recalcify decalcification. Research those terms thoroughly please and save yourself $10,000’s, literally.

          • Dollywood

            Yup, I agree. There is over 500 different species of microflora consistently present in everyone’s mouth secreting toxins 24/7. If a person isn’t talking care of their teeth BOTH professionally and at home and gets even a mild gingival infection with even minimal bleeding, guess what?? All that uck is in your blood stream. No oil is going to pull that off or prevent that. Don’t believe me? Research the link between heart disease, stroke and oral diseases. Research gum infections linked with pregnancy complications.

          • Pauline Roberts

            Love this reply

          • Krista

            For goodness sake, she didn’t say she was replacing brushing and flossing with oil pulling.

          • niboned

            Agreed. Oil pulling has no benefits to dental health, no more than pulling with plain water.

          • Robyn

            I have first hand account that oil pulling DOES work.. Of course- common sense like brushing teeth and flossing are in conjunction but oil pulling has helped me immensely and I have Lupus!! It’s like anything else tho- what works for one person may not work for someone else.. Never skip your dentist either. Oil pulling is good for all kinds of things. I also use coconut oil for my eczema, sunburns, moisturizing, deep conditioning, make up remover, and it works in a pitch for so much more. Jus got to have an open mind and common sense..

          • Cindi Shellenberger

            I agree completely!

          • Kevin

            You’re an idiot

          • ido sever

            take it easy

          • Cindi Shellenberger

            I really must respectfully disagree with you in this area. First let me say that proper oral hygiene should never be underestimated…daily flossing, brushing, and regular dental checkups and cleanings are vital for a healthy mouth. However, I feel you’re misinformed on the other contents of your post. A few years ago I had a painful cavity. I did not have dental insurance at the time and I could not afford to go to the dentist right away so I did some research to see if there was a home remedy. After much searching I came to the conclusion that I could risk spending $25 for a jar of organic, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil and $15 for a tube of organic toothpaste. And so I did! Within 6 weeks not only was my cavity healed (later proven by dental X-rays), but the overall health of my teeth and gums greatly improved. As an added bonus, I had a brighter and whiter smile! My dentist tells me repeatedly that there is a noticeable difference in my dental health since I began this routine. I started out just using coconut oil for my tooth and now I use it for too many things to count. I have been an avid user for 2 years and don’t ever see myself giving it up! I hope this helps!

      • Marv50

        As Linda says, melt it in your mouth. The first time I did it, there was a little bit of a gag reflex happening. After that, smooth sailing. And, as she said also, spit it in the garbage or the toilet (garbage best choice). Afterwards, brush your teeth. It feels amazing!

      • Dale

        Coconut oil melts at about 80 Fahrenheit.

  • Jill

    I use it in cooking. In my hair and as a moisturizer. Brilliant stuff.

  • Philip

    I use coconut oil in making soap, it makes soap bubbly, also I use in lip balm and skin conditioners

    • ginncjb

      For melting, a friend puts a small tub of oil in a small amount of warm water while she is showering. By the time she is finished, it has softened to be used as after – shower moisturizer.

      • ginncjb

        Wasn’t replying directly to Phillip. Just to the original post. Oops!

  • EiramAnna GB

    I am a Filipina and coconut (its meat, oil, milk; and all about it…) has been part of our lives…the benefits are so awesome. We use coconut milk after we take a bath as moisturizer both for hair and body when i was a kid…The coconut oil is used as massage oil…we also use freshly squeezed [hand squeezed] re: coconut milk for food recipe like [Butternut Squash w/ Yard Long Beans in Coconut Milk]…

  • Sharon Cullen

    I have a jar in my bedroom and use it for all kinds of things. I put it on my eyelashes as a conditioner. I use it as a moisturizer. I mix it with a few capsules of vitamin E and use it around my eyes. I use it as a cuticle conditioner. My son uses it to polishes his guitars. There are thousands of uses for coconut oil.

  • Aldousmom

    Keep the oil in the plant it comes from.

    • Jeanie

      Why do you say that? It comes from a coconut, which is shed by the plant it comes from. That’s like saying “keep the fruit” on the plant it comes from.” The plant doesn’t need it any more. Why shouldn’t people benefit from it, as from any fruit, nut, etc., just as animals do? Could you explain your thinking?

      • Aldousmom

        sometimes being succinct isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 🙂 my intent was to say to avoid eating unnecessarily processed foods: such as oil FROM the coconut, instead of the actual coconut. Eat apples, instead of apple juice. Eat apple TREES instead of apples… ha ha, just kidding about that last one…

        • Me

          Um. Name a cooking fat that isn’t at least minimally processed.

          Butter? Nope, according to your logic we can drink milk, but only if it is raw, whole milk, and nothing made from milk would be acceptable.

          Lard, tallow, or schmaltz? Nope. Requires rendering. You can eat beef, pork, or chicken, but don’t render the fat.

          Olive, coconut, or palm oil (or any other mechanically pressed oil)? Nope. Eat olives, Palm, or coconuts.

          Canola, peanut, safflower, sunflower, or other seed oils? Nope. Eat the seeds (or legumes)’ but not oils derived f I’m them.

          Okay… So what do we cook with? I can’t think of a single cooking fat that isn’t derived from something else. I get wanting to avoid heavily or unnecessarily processed foods. Coconut oil is not an unnecessarily processed food tho.

          Question – do you avoid all grains? They are processed too.

  • Julie Garrett

    I used it from day one on stitches I received for surgery (3 inch scars) when the nurse advised me to keep the stitches moist instead of the usual keep it dry advice. The scars are so well healed now that I have to really peer in the mirror to find them (6 months after the op). I’m in my 50’s so its not young skin. I am now using it on all my other scars to see if it can help them 20 years later.

    • Tammy

      Please let us know if it work’s on the older scares. I have some really ugly one’s from skin cancer. They don’t particularly bother me because it’s a reminder that I’m a survivor but it would be nice to see them gone too.

      • Breia

        Tammy,
        I know it’s completely off topic for this discussion, but if you do a little research on, or read amazon reviews about derma rolling you may find a solution to help with the scars. In addition to the coconut oil of course. I’ve read that coconut oil is the closest thing to natural sebum, which makes it an excellent skin care choice for some. For others, it can be irritating as it is relatively high on the comodogenic scale. Safflower oil is another beneficial oil, as is castor oil for skin. Castor oil is actually supposed to have circulation increasing properties, and is used for scaring and hair regrowth.

      • Cynthia

        To lighten scars, take an oyster shell (clean), squeeze some lime into it, and leave it overnight. In the morning, swish what’s in the shell around with your finger, and apply it to the scar. It will lighten it. (Most seafood places are happy to part with oyster shells for free.)

  • Dr Pol

    Is it killing orangutans like Palm oil? Not buying it if it’s causing similar devastation to forests

    • Vishal

      Coconut oil comes from the actually fruit. So in order to get more oil there would need to be more trees to grow more fruit.

    • DaleK

      How?

  • Pauline

    I warm it so it’s liquid, and comb it through my hair, then I pin my hair up for about an hour. After that I wash it twice with shampoo, and then I condition it…… it feels fantastic, frizz frree and soft and silky. I like it better for my hair than for cooking.

    • janae

      me too-hee hee:P

    • MizzMo

      OMGosh – I just tried this today and worked like a dream! Thanks for the tip!

  • Coconut fan

    Used as a skin moisturiser supposedly has sun screen properties. My daughter used during her pregnancy and no stretch marks. Brilliant on dry skin and hair for shine. Then into the kitchen for cakes, pastry, and other cooking. Worth every penny.

  • T

    It’s absolutely wonderful for dry hair too. It’s a great natural conditioner 🙂

  • Dot

    I use a tsp of coconut oil in my porridge. It adds the sweetness instead of sugar and makes it nice and creamy.

  • georgia

    i use it as a body scrub! absolutely my favourite shower time addition. i combine coconut oil (melted) with cococut shavings and epsom salts. by far my favourite i even give it to friends as a gift and have heard no complaints.

    • janae

      That’s a good idea!!! I bet you could add almond, peppermint, or lavender oil to make it even more healthier and nicer smelling:D

    • Marilyn

      Can you tell me how you make this? Not sure how to do the shavings.
      Thanks

  • DaleK

    I make dark chocolate using 1 1/2 cupscacao powder and 1/2 cup coconut oil and 1/3 cup raw honey and a variety of real extracts @ licorice, peppermint, vanilla, maple, lemon and next is Orange. Store in fridge till using then let sit for fifteen minutes on counter. Melts in your mouth delicciioouus

  • janae

    I use unrefined CO (from Whole Foods orTrader Joes) as a make=up remover, a toner (in a small spray bottle with “raw coconut water” from WF’s or TJ’s), a face & body moisturizer, it’s great for acne and ridding dark (acne) scars, hair shine after washing it (it’s so light and doesn’t make my hair weigh down), lip gloss, around the eyes at night (night cream), and even as mouth wash-it’s the best mouthwash I’ve ever used:D

  • Alexandra Rodriguez

    Great article! I’ve had a container of coconut oil in my cabinet and have been weary about using it after hearing it was very high in saturated fat – thanks for clearing things up!

  • Coconut happy

    Coconut oil doesn’t stain clothing like other oils. Re: oil pulling don’t do it if you have crowns or bridges

    • curious1

      why not with crowns or bridges?

      • niboned

        It may dissolve the cement that was used to secure them. I wouldn’t bother with oil pulling; it’s no more efficacious than pulling water through your teeth. Brush, floss, rinse, twice a day. Done. Despite purely anecdotal stories, oil pulling has no dental benefits.

  • I was born on the Island of Fiji, love all things coconut. I grew up with coconuts falling on my head 😉

    • Steven Michael Matrix

      More people die in the world each year from falling coconuts, than drunk driving. Amazing statistic.

      • Josh

        on average 150 people die per year by falling coconuts, thousands of people die each year from drunk driving. I believe you may have been thinking of something like shark attacks being less deadly but drunk driving is indeed much more dangerous than walking under a coconut tree.

  • Melissa

    The 2003/2008 studies you reference were conducted only on overweight men – not quite representative of the general population. I think it’s important to point that out to your readers because not everyone is going to head over and check out those studies with a critical eye.

  • Kaoos

    I have suffered from IBS for years. I now take coconut oil capsules twice a day. The pain, bloating and constipation have almost vanished after only a few weeks. I’m amazed at the results 🙂

  • db8688

    I have been using OVCO (Organic Virgin Cococut Oil ) For about 3 years. I very rarely use it for cooking or as a supplement due to the extremely high calorie count plus the fact that you need to consume 3-4 servings per day to have an impact on your health. That’s a minimum of 390 calories per day! I do use it as an oral rinse, I was using it as a moisturizer but found after about a year that it wasn’t dong the trick. I started mixing it with one of my favorite lotions when applying and that works wonders. I also add it to my sunscreen and I’ve recently created a Coco-Shea blend to use as a summer sunscreen/moisturizer. I smooth a small amount through my hair when I’m going to be out in the sun as an added conditioner. AND I use it daily as a makeup remover.

  • DrexelLake

    It’s a great natural lube too.

    • Anon

      Only use rectally. Used vaginally can cause complications.

  • Elaine Herlan

    I always use it for sauteeing, since it takes the heat without breaking down (as olive oil does). Use it to replace part of the butter in baked goods. Tastes great!

  • Olivia

    I use it on my hair,skin, and in the kitchen

  • I “wash” my face with it every night in the shower before using my regular facewash. While I’ve never struggled with bad skin, I have always had a lot of blackheads. Since starting with the coconut oil, I hardly get any clogged pores/blackheads anymore! I also use it in place of shaving cream when shaving my legs and underarms.

  • Bingo77

    I mix 1:1 with baking soda, add a few drops of lavender and lemon essential oils and use it in place of deodorant.

  • Rael Marie

    Grew up in the Caribbean, we made our own coconut oil fresh.

  • Denise

    My secret ingredient in cookies and cakes! Makes all baked goods delicious.

  • Joy

    I had my husband purchase the Virgin Coconut oil about a month ago and we both love the mild taste. He uses it when make his morning shakes and I use about a table spoon along with a table spoon olive oil when making my salad dressings. Turn out really tasty.

  • Tracey Brown

    People, if u click on the link to the research, it says ‘Conclusion: Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.’

  • patstar5

    I always use coconut oil when I scramble eggs or cook grilled cheese. Very tasty, and it has many benefits. Please by virgin coconut oil! Not refined! Refined is bad for you! If it doesn’t smell like coconut then it isn’t virgin coconut oil. I bought mine from Sam’s club

  • judith

    Coconut oil is brilliant for your mouth, try using some with bicarbonate of soda for a month and see how white your teeth get. Also it is good for ‘pulling’. Used regularly it will decrease the need for so many visits to the dentist

  • Debbie

    I use it to cook my eggs and then pour the oil and eggs over a whole grain English muffin. It is so good. And no butter.

  • Carmen

    I mix in a little with my lipstick to keep my lips moist and it works as a lip gloss

  • Flightmedick

    MCT oil for salad dressing, along w/ olive & avocado oil

  • laura

    Coconut oil is great for your skin but oil is refinded fat so it’s terrible for your body

  • LaurieP

    I use it to pop popcorn. So yummy!

  • Amanda Browning

    I use coconut oil in place of shortening in my pie crusts. It’s delicious! I also use it in any baked goods that call for vegetable oil or shortening. And it makes my granola taste great!

  • Vicki

    I was taking high levels of vitamin D but blood tests always came up low. My Dr. recommend adding a bit to my breakfast fruit smoothie. A bit of fat helps your body absorb supplements. BT numbers are better now. I also rub a bit though my frizzy hair ends. Cheaper than Argon oil.

  • Casey Berg

    I have recently been trying Bulletproof coffee which has what is called Brain Octane Oil. It is a super concentrated coconut oil. Is this healthy?