Coconut oil has grown in popularity in recent years, amid claims that it can do everything from supporting weight loss to slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Many manufacturers have begun to use coconut oil in packaged products, and many people use it for cooking. Many products, such as fried foods, sweets, shampoos, coffee, smoothies, contain coconut oil.
In July 2016, results of a survey in the United States showed that 72% of people believed that coconut oil was healthful, but only 37% of nutritionists agreed.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting consumption of saturated fats to
Find out more about the controversy, and if you should make coconut oil a staple in your diet.
Supporters claim coconut oil provides various health benefits.
Increasing good cholesterol
There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol. HDL appears to help reduce levels of LDL, and high levels of HDL may help boost cardiovascular health.
Learn more about how to reduce cholesterol.
Controlling blood sugar
Findings from a 2009 animal study suggested that MCTs, present in coconut oil, may help preserve insulin sensitivity. The review also listed the specific beneficial health effects of MCT oil, not coconut oil, in 29 studies.
However, other investigations have
Which foods help manage blood sugar levels? Find out here.
Virgin coconut oil may have antioxidant properties. In a rodent
Many plant based foods provide antioxidants. Learn more here.
Some people apply coconut oil to their hair to increase shine and protect it from damage. It may penetrate the scalp better than mineral oils.
Applying a coconut extract to human skin may enhance its protective barrier functions and have an anti-inflammatory effect, says a 2017
These findings could have implications for medicine but not for the diet.
Some foods may help boost skin health. Get some tips here.
This may be due to the extract's
Can coconut oil fight candida? See this article for more details.
Preventing liver disease
In a 2017 study, rats with liver disease consumed a high glucose diet either with or without coconut oil. Those who consumed coconut oil had better measures of liver health after 4 weeks than those who did not.
This suggests that some elements in coconut oil may help protect the liver.
Reducing asthma symptoms
However, no studies have taken place in humans, so people should not inhale coconut oil.
Some people have argued that coconut oil leaves people feeling fuller after eating, which means they will not eat so much.
Studies have found coconut oil pulling to protect against cavities, improve gingivitis, and influence the oral bacterial balance.
One reason weight gain occurs is when people consume more calories than they use for energy.
All high fat foods and oils are high in calories. One tablespoon of coconut oil, weighing 13.6 grams (g) contains 121 calories, which is more than lard and butter and slightly less than sunflower oil.
Adding more high fat, calorie dense foods to a diet that contains carbohydrates and plenty of calories may not result in weight loss.
Which breakfast foods can help people lose weight? Find out here.
Several investigations have looked into coconut oil and its possible benefits, but many of these are small, inconclusive, and animal- or lab-based.
Some human studies have confirmed several benefits, but other studies on people show conflicting results. More research is needed to confirm the effects of daily coconut oil use.
1 tbs of coconut oil contains:
- 121 calories
- 0 g of protein
- 13.5 g of fat, of which 11.2 g is saturated
- 0 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol
Coconut oil contains vitamin E, but no fiber and little to no other vitamins or minerals.
Coconut oil is almost 100% fat, most of which is saturated fat. However, the structure of fat in coconut oil differs from that of many animal products, which mainly consist of long-chain fatty acids.
Coconut oil is high in MCTs. These are harder for the body to convert into stored fat and easier to burn off than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). Supporters of coconut oil attribute many of its benefits to the high MCT content.
Not all coconut oils are the same, and the impact on health may vary according to type.
Overall, the less processed a food is, the more likely it is to offer health benefits, and the same is probably true of coconut oil.
Extra virgin coconut oil comes from the fruit of fresh, mature coconuts. Processing does not involve high temperatures or added chemicals.
People who choose to use coconut oil should opt for the least processed type.
Learn more about which oils to choose and which to avoid.
The main argument against coconut oil is its high saturated fat content.
In June 2015, a Cochrane review found that, in some ways, saturated fats may be less harmful than previously believed. It did not suggest, however, that saturated fats were healthful, and the authors urged people to continue reducing their intake of saturated fat.
In June 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued new advice against using saturated fats, including coconut oil, after looking at the findings of over 100 research studies.
Incorrect interpretation of a study?
In 2008, one
The team found that the body processes MCT oil, such as coconut oil, differently from other oils. They concluded that MCT could have the same impact on CVD risk factors as olive oil.
Some people interpreted this to mean that if MCTs can have a positive effect on HDL and total cholesterol levels, coconut oil must be healthful.
However, the original study did not use coconut oil, but a special oil that was 100% MCT. The MCT content of coconut oil is around
A person would have to eat 150 g, or 10 tbs, of coconut oil each day to get the benefits. Consuming this much oil would not be healthful.
The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting the intake of saturated fats to 10% or less of total calories. For those monitoring their cholesterol, the AHA recommend a maximum of 5-6%.
Most studies that show positive health benefits use MCT oil, not coconut oil. Studies supporting coconut oil have often been short term, small scale investigations involving animals rather than humans. The results have not been significant enough to warrant advising people to switch to coconut oil.
Research supporting a switch to unsaturated fatty acids has produced more reliable results.
Fats and oil provide essential nutrients, but people should always use them in moderation. If people use coconut oil, they should look for extra virgin coconut oil.
Here are some tips for buying, storing, and using coconut oil:
Check the label and avoid oils that contain partially hydrogenated coconut oil.
Store coconut oil in a cool, dark place. Like other saturated fats, it is solid when at room temperature and liquefies when heated.
Use coconut oil in baking for a light, sweet, "coconutty" flavor. It substitutes well for butter and shortening, and it is suitable for vegan recipes.
Coconut oil can add flavor and variety to the diet, but research seems unlikely to prove that it is a superfood.
Consumers should remember that, while changing from one oil to another may benefit health, adding more of any oil to the diet is unlikely to help them lose weight loss or improve their overall health.
People should always consume oils and fats in moderation, as part of a varied diet. They should also ensure that their activity levels are high enough to burn off the calories they consume.
Coconut oil is available for purchase online.
If coconut oil is not good for health, which oil should I use?
While I recommend to limit all oils and choose whole food fats more often, healthy staple oils are olive and avocado. I do also keep coconut oil at home, but it is not my default oil for cooking.Natalie Butler, RD, LD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.