Coconut Oil: Benefits, Uses and Side Effects

Behold the coconut, one of Mother Nature's sweetest tropical fruits (or nut or seed, depending on who you ask.)

Scientists and foodologists aren't entirely sure where coconuts came from, and when, but their best guess is that coconuts are a variety of prehistoric plant that originated in the South Pacific - most likely in New Guinea.

Reportedly, sailors aboard Vasco de Gama's fleet dubbed the fruit with the name "coco" - sailor lingo for a hobgoblin-like, grimacing face. When "cocos" were brought back and introduced in England, the locals added the term "nut" to coco, giving it the name still widely in use today.

The inside meat of a coconut is considered by nutritionists to be abundant with protein, while the milk inside the coconut is light, refreshing with a low sugar level. Besides being a South Pacific food staple, coconuts have other uses as well. For example, natives have used coconuts as an insect repellent (mosquitoes hate the smell and haze of a burning coconut husk.)

Perhaps the most useful ingredient inside a coconut is the oil, which health-food advocates say contributes to higher energy levels and a stronger metabolism. In fact, coconut oil's benefits (and some risks) have become a hot topic in health and nutrition circles, as more and more people turn to coconut oil to better their wellness habits.

Are they on to something? Here's a deep dive on coconut oil, and what it brings to the table for you.

What Is Coconut Oil?

In a word, coconut oil is a body-friendly foodstuff that is heart-healthy, great for oral health, and other health benefits. Structurally, coconut oil is taken from coconut kernels. It's tasteless and colorless, and is available for consumer usage in refined and unrefined coconut oil.

Advocates call the coconut a "superfood", but the evidence doesn't completely support that name tag - at least not yet.

Composite-wise, coconut oil contains a cornucopia of fatty acids and proteins that hold antioxidants and provide myriad health benefits. It's rich in so-called medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA's), which are, in great part, comprised of Caprylic acid, Lauric acid and Capric acid.

Approximately 60% of all coconut oils are comprised of the above three fatty acids, while 90% of coconut oil fats is comprised of heart-healthy saturated fats. The latter figure is a high one, and not one that is recommendable to many doctors. For example, 14% of olive oil calories come from saturated fat, and 63% of butter's calories come from saturated fat.

As a rule, nutritionists love MCFA's, noting that, among other advantages, they're easily digestible and since they're processed by the liver, MCFA's are more effectively and quickly converted to energy, and not fat, inside the body.

Coconut Oil Nutritional Facts

Here is how coconut oil is broken down, nutritionally (based on one tablespoon of coconut oil.)

  • 120 calories.
  • 0 grams of protein
  • 14 grams of fat (12 = saturated fat; 1 = monounsaturated fat; and 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fats.)
  • 0 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol

It's worth noting that, component-wise, coconut oils often differ in their make-up, and differ in their health benefits.

For example, partially hydrogenated coconut oil isn't deemed as healthy by nutritionists - it's similar as other processed oils that hold trans fats. Yet so-called "virgin" coconut oil comes from fruit component of coconuts, and is extracted without the use of chemicals or other foreign agents. Thus, nutritionists look more favorably on virgin coconut oil.

10 Benefits of Coconut Oil

There is a growing body of evidence that coconut oil offers some health benefits, both internally and externally.

1. A Boost in Good Cholesterol

Coconut oil is said to modestly hike one's level of good cholesterol.

2. Good for Blood Sugar and Diabetes

Coconut oil can aid in lowering obesity levels in the body and also battles insulin resistance - issues that often lead to type two diabetes.

3. Helps Fight Back Against Alzheimer's Disease

The MCFA component in coconut oil - especially its generation of ketones by the liver - aids in mending brain function in Alzheimer patients.

4. Helps Stop Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure

Since coconut oil is so high in saturated fats, that helps boost HDL (or "good") cholesterol to ward off heart disease and lowering high triglycerides. Additionally, coconut oil also performs a rather remarkable and heart-healthy feat - it helps turn bad cholesterol into good cholesterol.

5. Aids in Liver Health

Coconut oil also guards against any damage to the liver, and also aids in curing urinary tract infections.

6. Boosts Energy

Unrefined coconut oil also hikes energy and endurance, primarily by its MCFA's shooting directly into the liver, which enables to be converted into energy.

7. Aids with Digestion

Another benefit of coconut oil - it helps with food digestion by aid the body take in fat-soluble components like vitamins and magnesium. It also eliminates toxic bacteria and candida, which fights poor digestion and stomach inflammation. That helps prevent stomach ulcers.

8. Acts as a Salve for Wounds and Burns

Coconut is good for the skin, especially in the treatment of wounds, burns, and dermatitis. It also acts as sunblock, and as a moisturizer for the skin, thanks to the two primary fatty acids in unrefined coconut oil, caprylic and lauric, and to its antioxidant component, which team up to reduce inflammation under the skin and promote better healing.

9. Acts as an Anti-aging Component

Rich with antioxidants, coconut oil is known to slow the aging process, generally by curbing any undue stress on the liver.

10. Helps With Weight Loss

Coconut oil also can help with weight loss, as it acts as a fat burner and a calorie burner, especially with doses of unrefined coconut oil. It also acts as an appetite suppressant. One study shows that the capric acid in coconut oil helps boost thyroid performance, which in turn reduces a body's resting heart rate and aids in burning fat for an increased energy boost.

Coconut Oil Risks

Some critics of coconut oil as a health and wellness remedy recommend that users slow their roll before taking in too much coconut oil.

For starters, the bulk of the medical research hasn't been done on humans, so any conclusions drawn have to be taken with a grain of salt. Additionally, coconut oil is high in calories, and used to excess, could result in weight gain, especially if coupled with a high-calorie diet.

In reality, any risks associated with coconut oil comes down to saturated fats, which are abundant in coconuts. The American Hospital Association recently issued a warning against saturated fats, especially coconut oil. In addition, the American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fat intake to no more than 6% of one's total calorie intake.

In general, medical professionals recommend edging away from unsaturated fats and toward unsaturated fats to increase heart health, and to increase healthy food habits.

Ways to Take Coconut Oil

Health advocates who do tout the benefits recommend limiting your daily intake of coconut oil to two tablespoons (30 ml) - that should leave enough room in your diet for additional fat nutrients, like nuts, olive oil, and some fruits.

If you're taking coconut oil for the first time, start gradually with one tablespoon of coconut oil and work your way up to two tablespoons per day. Ingesting too much coconut oil right off the bat can lead to nausea, consumer advocates warn.

Other coconut oil-linked side effects include headache, dizziness, fatigue, swollen glands, joint or muscle pain, stomach upset, chills, hives or rashes, or other adverse skin conditions.

When taking coconut oil, you have several options, including:

  • Stir-fry. Coconut oil is ideally used in a pan, either via sauté or stir-fry, in a pan with beef, fish, chicken, eggs, or vegetables.
  • Baking. You can also ingest coconut oil by drizzling it on beef, fish or chicken before cooking in the oven. Some health advocates also recommend coconut oil as a substitute for eggs or butter in baking dishes, like curry or vegetable dishes.
  • Add to coffee and tea. You can also add coconut oil to coffee or tea, in moderate amounts (no more than a teaspoon is recommended.)
  • As a supplement. Users can also buy coconut oil, usually in capsule form, at a drug store, health food outlet, grocery store, or online through companies like Amazon.com. A word of warning - coconut oil in capsule forms is only available in minute amounts per capsule. Consequently, to get your daily recommended amount of two tablespoons of coconut oil, opt for taking in as a cooking ingredient in a meal you're preparing.

Health professionals who tout the benefits of coconut oil recommend avoiding refined doses and instead opt for virgin coconut oil. When storing coconut oil, keep it at room temperature, just as you would virgin olive oil, for best results.

Size of Coconut Oil Market

In 2016, the size of the global coconut oil market stood at $4.6 billion, although sales declined in 2017, as coconut prices rose, and as demand slowed moderately.

The countries where coconut oil is consumed the most include the U.S., Indonesia, and the Philippines, with the latter two countries, along with Mexico and Vietnam, are the largest producers of coconut oil, as of 2017.

Top-selling coconut oils include Nutiva Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Thrive Market Organic, Ethically-Sourced Virgin Coconut Oil, Dr. Bronner's whole Kernel Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, and Kelapo Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.

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