In recent years you may have noticed a growing public concern against the use and consumption of coconut oil through major media outlets. Sure, it contains saturated fat, (more on this in a second) but I believe the myriad of health benefits you experience with daily consumption and usage of coconut oil far outweigh this single concern.
Coconut Oil and Cholesterol
I can understand why anyone with heart disease would be alarmed when the American Heart Association (AHA) would report that consuming coconut oil raises bad cholesterol (LDLs) because that’s scary and probably the opposite of what you are trying to do through diet! But what the AHA fails to mention is that coconut oil also raises good cholesterol (HDLs) and assists in weight-loss (1) which are two things the cardiologist is going to want you to do if you have heart disease right? If you have been following me for any amount of time you know how I feel about cholesterol in general. I feel there is far too much emphasis being placed on “dietary fat” and “lab values” and not enough emphasis (or discussion being had) on reducing systemic inflammation. Besides, if dietary fat were the true issue, then how do we explain how people on a high-fat diet (like, the ketogenic diet) experience lower triglycerides and weight-loss? (2)
Breaking Down Coconut Oil
Over 60 percent of coconut oil is comprised of three, healthy fats, called “Medium Chain Fatty Acids” (MCFAs) and they are:
- Lauric acid
- Capric acid
- Caprylic acid
These fats are also shorter chained fatty acids, which means they are easily absorbed into your digestive tract and easily processed by your liver so they can be immediately converted into energy instead of being stored as fat. (FYI: Other fats, which are longer chained, found in plant-based oils like corn or canola, are more difficult to digest and therefore stored.)
Coconut Oil: a Superfood
The Miriam Webster dictionary defines a “superfood” as a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. (3) As far as I’m concerned coconut oil checks off these boxes. In fact, I have yet to meet a food that improves brain health, boosts your immune system, balances hormones, assists in weight-loss, and increases nutrient absorption.
5 Evidence Based Benefits to Coconut Oil
1. Brain Health
Did you know that the quick metabolism of the MCFAs in coconut oil, by your liver, creates “ketones” which are readily available for use by your brain, for energy? This explains why patients experience improved memory (cognition) with regular consumption of coconut oil. (4) Ketone bodies are an important alternative energy source in the brain, and may be beneficial to people developing or already with memory impairment, as in Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. (5) Fact is, I don’t go a day without consuming MCFAs! I start the day with a good-fat-infused coffee or smoothie based in coconut milk. Once you get into the habit of incorporating good fat into your morning routine you will notice a marked benefit (I challenge you to do your own experiment with this! Try either my coffee recipe or smoothie recipe!)
2. Immune System Boost (Antibacterial and Antiviral)
Once again, thanks to the MCFAs in coconut oil (namely lauric and capric acids) this super food is a widely researched anti-microbial, powerful enough to destroy bacteria like candida and viruses like herpes (6, 7), thereby boosting your immunity. It is for this very reason that you’ll find coconut oil at the base of many of my home-made creams. I simply infused melted coconut oil with essential oils and apply to myself and my kids. Simply purchase a jar of pure, organic, unrefined coconut oil so that you can ensure it is of the highest quality to reap maximum benefits.
3. Balances Hormones
Do you have a lot of stress in your life? If you responded with a resounding “yes” (as most busy moms do!) then you definitely want to start incorporating coconut oil into your daily routine. In response to a stressful situation (known as oxidative stress), your body produces a hormone called “cortisol.” When cortisol rises, it can drive down testosterone in both men and women (8). Studies show consuming coconut oil can not only reduce oxidative stress in both men and women (9) but also assist women with balancing estrogen during menopause. (10)
The saying is true: fat burns fat. In a study conducted by the Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, due to the “thermogenic” properties of MCFAs, eating coconut oil leads to energy expenditure and fat burning. (11) Coconut oil’s ability to assist your body in naturally losing weight brings us back to the power of MCFAs. In another study, after eight weeks of consuming a high-fat diet, including coconut oil, lab rats exhibited lower cholesterol (lipids) and less fat (adipose). (12)
5. Nutrient Absorption
Have you ever had your blood work tested and discovered you had low Vitamin D levels? This is a lab value I see often in my functional diagnostic medicine practice and my theory? Low-fat, fat-free diets are to blame. Without enough healthy fat within our diet, how are we going to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D and E? Vitamin D deficiency is correlated to everything from cancer to asthma to heart disease, so ingesting a high quality Vitamin D supplement with coconut oil is an easy solution to meet your needs and avoid those consequences. (13) In addition, because the MCFAs in coconut oil virtually bypass digestion to be quickly metabolized by the liver, less strain is placed on your digestive system which is crucial for those experiencing digestive or metabolic issues.
Final Thoughts on Coconut Oil
I am hoping by the time you read this you have explored the peer reviewed medical literature I refer to throughout this article. I am highly committed to sharing evidence-based research with you and the topic of coconut oil is no exception. It truly is a superfood!
If you are brand new to coconut-oil and consuming it in a smoothie or your morning coffee is a bit too rogue, may I suggest starting with replacing the normal oil you cook with? Coconut oil really does make the best stir-fry because of its high smoke-point. For my bakers, once you replace coconut oil in your favorite brownie recipe, I promise you will never look back.
For the busy moms who are saying “I won’t be able to get my kid to try coconut oil.” Look no further than my recipe for Almond Butter Cups (think: peanut butter cups but super healthy AND delicious!) But for the newbies that wish to begin their coconut oil journey even more conservatively, may I suggest starting with a home made body cream (coconut oil can boost collagen production and reduce cellulite!)?
Finally, consuming high-quality coconut oil has never been easier since I’ve been able to find it pretty much at every grocery store these days. Just be sure to opt for pure, organic, unrefined coconut oil.