Is there anything that coconut oil can’t do—at least, according to the internet? From making a delicious magic shell ice cream topping to acting as a hair and skin moisturizer, coconut oil is often touted as a wonder ingredient.
Just how miraculous is coconut oil? Should you grab a jar on your next grocery trip, or relegate it to the dustbin of history, usually reserved for fads like the Thighmaster? Read on to find out.
Is coconut oil healthy?
If you ask the American Heart Association, no, coconut oil is not healthy—at least no more than beef fat and butter. According to the Mayo Clinic, “[P]roponents believe that some saturated fats in coconut oil (called medium-chain triglycerides) are less harmful and may actually raise levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol…Coconut oil has been shown to raise cholesterol levels — the good and the bad kinds — more than other plant-based oils like olive or canola. And in truth, medium-chain triglycerides make up only a small amount of the fatty acids in coconut oil.”
Coconut oil does have a high amount of saturated fat. That mostly means that you shouldn’t eat it by the spoonful. (We’d be a little concerned about you if you did.) As long as you limit your intake to two tablespoons or less per day—as a substitute for other fats, not in addition—you won’t be causing yourself substantial harm.
Making an argument for coconut oil
Coconut oil proponents argue that there are some health benefits that go beyond the fat and cholesterol argument. After all, your body does need a certain amount of fat and cholesterol to operate properly.
Some benefits of coconut oil have been proven. Here are a few of the most interesting ones.
- May help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. This study notes that the ketones in coconut oil may help provide necessary energy to the brain, which helps it make repairs—even if the patient’s brain can’t use insulin for energy anymore.
- Protects the liver. One study showed that coconut oil protects the liver—at least in rats.
- Could help reduce inflammation. A study in India notes that the high levels of antioxidants helped reduce inflammation in animals—which also helps reduce arthritis pain.
- Helps improve skin problems. If you have eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis, coconut oil can help clear those issues up. (It can also help with dandruff, but you may have a hard time washing it out of your roots.)
As scientists continue to research the benefits of coconut oil, we may have more evidence that it can help certain conditions. Of course, it’s important that you follow the advice of your medical doctor and follow a balanced diet—never embark on a new diet or try a “miracle cure” without getting the professional okay first. Also, keep in mind that some people are allergic to coconut, and can develop allergies later in life. Make sure that you’re able to safely ingest or come into contact with coconut before making it a part of your everyday life.
Other uses for coconut oil
You don’t have to ingest coconut oil to reap the benefits. Here are some other uses for coconut oil that may just change your life—or at least make it smell better.
- Body scrub. You can make a moisturizing body scrub with coconut oil. The coconut oil will keep your skin feeling soft and smooth, while the abrasive ingredient (spent coffee grounds, sugar or salt) will exfoliate to get rid of dry, dead skin.
- Oil pulling. In Ayurvedic medicine, coconut oil is swished around in the mouth for 10 to 20 minutes. This freshens the breath, removes bacteria and may help improve your gum tissue.
- Lip balm. Make your own lip balm with coconut oil. Since it hardens at a relatively high temperature, it’ll stay solid during all but the hottest of days.
- Lice treatment. Finally, if you have had lice—which runs rampant around preschools and elementary schools—you may know that one of the best ways to get rid of them is to smother them. Coat your clean scalp and hair with coconut oil, leave on for 12 to 24 hours and then comb and wash out. The lice should be gone.
Coconut oil isn’t going to singlehandedly cure cancer or end climate change, but there are some valid benefits to using it. As long as you practice moderation, it can be a great addition to your daily life.