Coconut oil is wildly popular in the health food world because of it’s many uses and health benefits, of which there are literally hundreds.
But what are the best uses and benefits of coconut oil, and which ones are proven by research?
What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is a plant-based oil produced from the coconut. It is a cholesterol-free fat that is more than 85 percent medium chain triglyceride. It is these medium chain fatty acids that give coconut oil its vast health benefits.
Coconut oil is also antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. It’s basically anti- anything that’s bad.
Coconut oil is an easy source of energy for the body since medium chain triglycerides are more quickly converted for energy than other fat sources.
While coconut oil itself is now common and found on shelves seemingly everywhere, it contains three forms of fatty acids that are relatively rare compared to other foods.
These are caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid. Coconut oil also contains vitamin E, which is highly nourishing to the skin, as well as vitamin K and iron.
Coconut oil comes in a few varieties, including virgin, refined, and fractionated. Virgin coconut oil has the most health benefits as all nutrients are in tact.
Refined coconut oil has less of a coconutty flavor and tends to have a smoother texture. Fractionated coconut oil is always liquid, instead of solidifying in colder weather.
The ideal form is virgin coconut oil, whether using for food or topically. If you’re using for cleaning or other purposes, any form is equally as effective as the others.
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
There is a significant body of research that supports the health benefits of coconut oil. These include the following.
The healthy fatty acids in coconut oil support adrenal and thyroid health, typically leading to reduced stress hormones and an overall lowered physical burden of stress on the body.
Coconut oil also can prevent or reverse inflammatory effects on the body, which can skew thyroid, adrenal, or reproductive hormones.
Boost Good Cholesterol
Contrary to the fear of fat and cholesterol, the healthy fats in coconut oil can help to create healthy cholesterol levels by improving HDL levels and lowering LDL levels or preventing LDL from becoming oxidized, which is the only form of cholesterol that is truly harmful to the body.
A healthy cholesterol ratio is considered a boost for overall cardiovascular health, and this can be achieved in part by making virgin coconut oil a regular part of the diet. Exercise and other lifestyle factors are also essential, too.
Protect Bone Health
Extra virgin coconut oil contains antioxidants that can be protective of bone health by protecting them against free radicals that can damage bones on a cellular level.
While most people think that bones are a solid structure that never changes, they are being remade all the time.
When bone cells are damaged, bones become weaker and weaker due to the cells’ inability to reconstruct them and because of a possible lack of nutrients.
Some recent research indicates that coconut oil can help to maintain bone structure and maintain bone density even in estrogen deficient situations. Three tablespoons daily are needed for these equivalent results.
Coconut oil has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, making it a helpful tool for the medicine cabinet. But its antimicrobial properties can also be useful internally, especially when battling yeast or candida.
The lauric acid in coconut oil can kill these fungi more effectively than some anti-fungal pharmaceutical medications. As little as one tablespoon daily can be enough to change the bacterial balance in the body.
Even in cases of vaginal yeast infections, coconut oil can be beneficial applied directly to the infection. Coconut oil can even be used as a lubricant, and can be a better option than many conventional ones since they can lead to recurrent yeast infections in women who are prone to vaginal pH imbalance.
Brain and Neurological Support
Brain health is one of the most important topics on the minds of people today, no pun intended. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affect people all over the world, and there are no known cures.
In both of these conditions, the brain appears to be handicapped in its ability to use glucose for energy and mental function, leading to reduced capability and awareness.
The keto diet has been proven as an amazing therapeutic tool for brain health, and coconut oil is a large part of following a ketogenic food plan. Some research has even shown that early stage Alzheimer’s patients can show improvement when medium chain triglycerides like coconut oil are regularly added to the diet. (Source)
Weight Loss and Fat Reduction
While many people still associate eating fat with gaining fat, the opposite is true for coconut oil. The medium chain fatty acids found in virgin coconut oil can actually support fat reduction and weight loss, while still fueling the body with plenty of energy.
A tablespoon daily can help to reduce abdominal fat, which is considered to be one of the most dangerous locations to carry extra weight. The fatty acids in coconut oil can also help to boost metabolism temporarily, but this effect can be longer lasting when coconut oil is consumed regularly.
Coconut oil can actually help the body to burn more calories in a 24-hour period, making it an ideal pre-workout energy source.
Research shows that when men take one to two tablespoons daily, it can lead to an inch or more of fat loss from the waist in a relatively short amount of time. (Source)
Meanwhile, women who incorporate coconut oil into their weight loss diets actually lose more weight in the waist than women who use other fats that are considered healthy.
Coconut oil can also help to promote satiety, reducing the urge to snack and helping to eliminate food cravings. This too is a way that coconut oil can lead to weight loss.
While some who are trying to lose weight will scoff at adding calorie-dense coconut oil to their food plans, most experts and researchers agree that weight loss is more effective when it is measured by macronutrient intake instead of simple calories.
All calories are not created equal, and inclusion of coconut oil will have a more dramatic weight loss effect than avoiding it and focusing only on lower calorie foods.
Inflammation is never a friend to the body, and coconut oil can inhibit negative effects of inflammation and can reduce the occurrence of chronic inflammation.
Coconut oil also has a protective effect on the liver and kidneys which come into direct contact with toxins and inflammatory substances as they filter them and remove them from the body.
Coconut oil can also reduce lab markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, and chronic health issues. To take advantage of its anti-inflammatory benefits, eat at least 2 tablespoons of coconut oil daily, along with a diet rich in antioxidants and low in all forms of sugar.
The 9 Best Ways to Use Coconut Oil
Blog posts everywhere tout dozens, if not hundreds of uses for this clear oil, but many of them are a stretch at best. Here are the best and proven ways to use this health food oil, both for cooking and other reasons.
Perhaps the most natural way to use coconut oil is as a cooking oil. It’s perfect for frying since it’s heat stable at higher temperatures than olive oil, and it pairs well with almost any flavor, making it ideal for roasting vegetables, browning roasts, sautéing anything, stir frying, or even baking.
You can even blend it into smoothies for a texture boost, and you can whip it with coconut cream for an ultra-smooth frosting for cake that is dairy and sugar free.
2. Fat Bombs
Popular in the keto movement are fat bombs: bite-sized foods that are high in healthy fat content. Coconut oil is a popular ingredient for these fat bites thanks to its high fat content and pleasant, almost sweet taste.
Since keto doesn’t leave room for most sweeteners, pairing almost anything with coconut oil results in a tasty treat. While coconut oil can be eaten plain, fat bombs are a tasty way to get your daily tablespoons in without feeling like you’re chugging plain oil.
3. Energy Boost
Thanks to the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil, it can provide a relatively quick energy boost. This can be especially beneficial for athletes or exercise. Either eat a fat bomb, or pair coconut oil with coconut water, some fruit, and some collagen power in a quick smoothie-like drink.
While coconut oil can provide an almost instant energy boost, the best effects occur after regular daily intake for four to twelve weeks.
4. Throat Moisturizer
Have a sore throat that won’t go away? Coconut oil can coat the throat and relieve throat pain, and can even help to temper coughs.
Instead of relying on cough drops or throat spray, which often contain sugar or other synthetic ingredients, swish with coconut oil briefly and then swallow, repeating as often as needed. This remedy is safe to use in children, too.
5. Dental Health
Pair coconut oil with baking soda for a homemade, unflavored toothpaste that cleans effectively without any unnecessary ingredients. You can even add activated charcoal for a whitening boost.
Coconut oil and baking soda together are a perfectly safe toothpaste for even the smallest child who tends to swallow more of it than ends up on the teeth.
You can also take care of oral health by swishing with coconut oil, or by using a method known as oil pulling, where you swish repeatedly for 15 to 20 minutes and then discard the oil.
This can help to pull toxins and bacteria from the gums and improve gum and tooth health, even reducing gingivitis and plaque buildup.
6. Skin Health
Not only does coconut oil support skin health and work as a moisturizer without adding anything else to it, it can help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, cellulite, age spots, and scars.
It can also effectively remove makeup, including waterproof eye makeup. Simply rub it anywhere that makeup was, allow to sit briefly, and then wash away with a warm, damp washcloth.
Add more coconut oil after cleansing for an overnight moisturizer. Coconut oil can also effectively address other skin issues, ranging from eczema to diaper rash in infants.
Coconut oil can even protect the skin from sun damage, and some have claimed that it works as effectively as sunscreen, although most dermatologists and other experts won’t recommend ditching sunscreen entirely since coconut oil is only the equivalent as somewhere between SPF 4 and 7.
If you do get a sunburn, however, you can apply coconut oil for a skin cooling and healing effect since it absorbs into the skin and does not sit on the surface, trapping heat beneath.
Coconut oil also works as a great treatment for dry and cracked cuticles and hangnails, as well as cracked or painful heels.
7. Wound Care
If you get a cut or a burn, the lauric acid in coconut oil can help to speed healing and reduce chances of infection. Simply smear it on any wound, cut, or burn just like you would antibacterial cream from the pharmacy and leave open to air dry, or bandage if necessary.
8. Insect Repellent
Bug bites getting you down? Pair coconut oil with tea tree and peppermint essential oils for a natural bug repellent that works against mosquitoes and bees. If you do end up getting stung or bitten, plain coconut oil can work to alleviate pain and irritation and can speed healing time.
9. Hair Care
Coconut oil is a versatile weapon in the quest for perfect hair. It can be used as conditioner, a hair mask, detangling cream, and repair for dry or split ends.
When used regularly as a scalp treatment it can also reduce the occurrence of dandruff, alleviate scalp irritation, and lead toward thicker, healthier hair that doesn’t fall out as easily.
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1. Eyres L, Eyres MF, Chisholm A, Brown RC. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutrition reviews. 2016 Apr 1;74(4):267-80.
2. Khaw KT, et al. Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women. BMJ Open. 2018;8:e020167.
3. Quealy, K. and Sanger-Katz, M. Is Sushi ‘Healthy’? What About Granola? Where Americans and Nutritionists Disagree. New York Times. July 5, 2016.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.