Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of mature coconuts. It is an edible oil that has been cited for its health benefits, both topically and by consumption. Its shelf life is up to six months at room temperature. This is due to its saturated fat level content being high. The dry process for extracting coconut oil involves the meat of the coconut’s extraction and subsequent drying and pressing. The leftover meat is not beneficial for human consumption and is fed to animals while the oil is extracted and used in many products. Other oil production techniques exist, but the dry process is the simplest. Coconut oil has gained much popularity over the years because of its purported health benefits.1
Health Benefits of the Oil
There are supposed to be many health benefits of coconut oil. The oil contains lauric acid, which helps to prevent heart problems such as high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure as well as reduce artery damage. Pre-menopausal women could consider taking coconut oil because it may help maintain healthy lipid profiles. Coconut oil is also supposed to aid in weight loss and increase the body’s metabolic rate, in addition to traditional methods of weight loss like exercise. The oil, when consumed, also has antimicrobial properties that protect against bacteria, fungi, and parasites that cause indigestion while absorbing vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Because it aids calcium absorption, coconut oil is said to help prevent tooth decay and reduce plaque formation. This absorption of calcium also applies to the development of bones and keeping osteoporosis at bay. The oil can be consumed on its own or cooked into a variety of recipes. It is often used as a replacement for ingredients such as butter or vegetable oils.2 The smoke point of coconut oil is 350 degrees Fahrenheit, which is higher than that of extra virgin olive oil but lower than that of sunflower oil.3 Many of these health benefit ideas come from the fact that populations in parts of the world where eating coconut is very common tend to be healthier. For example, the Tokelauans in the South Pacific have shown no evidence of heart disease and most of their daily calories come from coconuts. The people of Tokelau are just one example of a population that has eaten lots of coconuts for many generations without any issues from the saturated fat.4 The oil is not just used for eating, either. Coconut oil for skin is used as a moisturizer and body lotion, said to strengthen the tissue and remove the excess of dead cells on the surface of the skin. It is recommended that extra virgin oil is purchased rather than its hydrogenated, bleached, refined, or deodorized counterparts. The oil also naturally smells good.5 Coconut oil for hair is also meant to be used as a natural moisturizer. Very dry hair might benefit from a small amount of coconut oil applied to the ends of the hair as a moisturizer and detangler after a shower. For dandruff, a little bit of oil can be massaged into the scalp and left to sit for at least ten minutes before being shampooed out. Coconut oil can also condition hair when it is clean and damp. The method is to massage a couple of tablespoons into the hair while especially focusing on dry and damaged areas. The oil will need to sit for about a half hour before it is washed out with shampoo.6
Controversy Surrounding Coconut Oil
Coconut oil gained media attention in mid-2017 due to reports written by a few medical and food associations and other sources claiming that its consumption should be limited or avoided. The coconut oil controversy has been met with mixed critical reception. Because the oil is a saturated fat, these organizations and associations have advised against its consumption in more than limited quantities.7 The research, however, is outdated. The American Heart Association cited studies performed in the 1970s, and these studies were not properly performed by contemporary standards. Sponsorship from Subway, Monsanto, and Cheerios may have also colored the judgment of the AHA. Such companies “would benefit from people replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils and processed carbohydrates”.8 “The Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease advisory reviewed existing data on saturated fat, showing coconut oil increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol”; however, “people who cut saturated fat out of their diet might not necessarily lower their heart disease risk”. For people who wish to limit saturated fats, coconut oil can still be used on the body for its other benefits.9
Learn more about how coconut oil pulling might benefit teeth.