Coconut Oil 101: Your Guide to Health Benefits & Handy Uses

by | Oct 29, 2020

Coconut oil, aka copra oil, is oil extracted from the kernel or meat of mature coconuts. Since it has an excellent shelf life, is slow to oxidize, and resistant to rancidification, it’s ideal for daily or long-term use. Coconut oil is not only edible but offers many health benefits.

The newest trend is using it for cooking and baking, as it provides an excellent substitute for oils and kinds of butter while adding little to no flavor or aftertaste. It comes in solid form when bought in a tub, it is concentrated and only needs a little melting before use. It is also perfect for people on the Paleo and keto diets, have dairy or gluten-free diets, Crohn’s disease, or wish to supplement their diets with more organic products.

You can incorporate coconut oil into your weight-loss diet with Noom. No foods are prohibited, so you learn how to eat what you love and lose weight in the process.

Types of Coconut Oil

When you look at the grocery store shelves today, you have an abundance of selection, especially in products like cooking oil. Coconut oil comes in varieties, most often named based on the type of extraction of processing the oil underwent before bottling.

Usually, coconut oil is labeled clearly; however, it is essential to know what these labels mean. Some of the most common types of coconut oils include:

Virgin Coconut Oil

One of the most common types of oil is called virgin coconut oil. Also called extra virgin coconut oil, there is no difference between these two terms. Both terms are used to refer to the same product, which is unrefined coconut oil. This means it has not been processed, is rich in nutrients, and is close to its natural state.

Cold-Pressed Coconut Oil

Another common type of coconut oil is called cold-pressed coconut oil. Cold-pressing involves producing coconut oil in environments that have tightly controlled the temperatures that never exceed 48 degrees C or 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Using these temperature control mechanisms, cold-pressed coconut oil is usually abundant in compounds called phenols. These are antioxidants that help scavenge free radicals that would otherwise cause damage to the body’s cellular structures. Cold-pressed coconut oil usually has a mild and neutral flavor.

Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil

This type of coconut oil is made using temperatures closer to 210 degrees Fahrenheit or 99 degrees Celsius. This heat ends up toasting the coconut oil and provides it with a nutty, characteristic taste.

Hydrogenated Coconut Oil

If coconut oil has been hydrogenated, then hydrogen atoms have been added to turn unsaturated fat molecules into saturated fat. This is usually done to add longer shelf life to the coconut oil and prevent it from spoiling too quickly. Hydrogenated coconut oil also tends to mix better in recipes.

Partially hydrogenated coconut oil comes in a semi-solid form and is closely associated with weight gain, heart disease, and obesity. On the other hand, fully hydrogenated coconut oil is completely solidified. While fully hydrogenated coconut oil might not be as bad for someone’s health as partially hydrogenated coconut oil, it still contains saturated fat.

Refined Coconut Oil

Refined coconut oil has been highly processed. It has almost no taste. This type of coconut oil is made from dry milled coconuts pressed by machines to release their oils. Then, the coconuts are baked under high heat before the oil is extracted. Refined coconut oil has been passed through bleaching clay to get rid of any and all impurities. Because of the high smoke point of refined coconut oil, it is popular in many kitchens.

How is Coconut Oil Made?

Coconut oil is becoming a more and more popular fixture in kitchens. If you’ve recently added it to your pantry, you may be wondering how this oil is made. The answer will depend, in part, on what kind of coconut oil you have purchased. Clues on the label will help you figure out where your coconut oil came from and how it was made.

Virgin or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Virgin and extra virgin are used interchangeably on coconut oil labels. Virgin oil is extracted with either no heat or minimal heat used during processing. In most cases, fresh coconut meat is pressed with a machine to release coconut milk and oil. The oil is then separated from the milk using enzymes, fermentation, or centrifuges that use gravity to pull the oil and milk into separate layers.

Virgin coconut oil may be labeled “cold-pressed,” which indicates that no heat was used. It is believed that this oil retains more nutrients. Expeller-pressed oil may involve the use of steam or another heat source. Virgin coconut oil may also be labeled “raw” or “unrefined,” which means it has not been filtered.

Virgin coconut oil has a smoke point of 350, making it suitable for lower heat uses like baking or saute, but a poor choice for deep-frying.

Refined Coconut Oil

Refined coconut oil nearly always starts with a dried coconut meat product called copra. The copra is first machine pressed to extract the oil. Then, the oil is heated or steamed to remove the characteristic coconut scent. Finally, it is filtered through clay to remove impurities and bacteria.

In some cases, hexane, lye, or other chemical solvents are used to extract the oil from the copra. Refined coconut oil has a smoke point between 400 and 450 degrees.

Often, labels will not show the specific extraction methods used, but the terms above can help buyers understand the process used to make their oil. When in doubt, buyers can contact manufacturers to ask where their oil comes from and what method is used to make it.

Remember, all oils contain the same 14g of fat per tablespoon, whether it’s coconut oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, or other variety. With Noom, you won’t have to cut out high-fat coconut oil, but you will learn how to use it in moderation.

Coconut Oil For:

Coconut oil is a popular cooking ingredient that has several health benefits and handy uses. What does the scientific community have to say about coconut oil?

Coconut Oil for Hair

There’s tons of hype about how coconut oil can work magic on your hair, but what can you believe and what is nothing more than a popular trend that’s just passing through? Hair is vulnerable when it is wet, so this is the best time to apply coconut oil. Coconut oil can reduce hair damage, prevent lice, protect it from the sun, and prevent hair loss.

Another review, published in the International Journal of Trichology, summarized hair cosmetics and their role in protecting the hair. While there are lots of cosmetics out there, this review indicates that coconut oil is more effective than other types of oil, such as olive oil and mineral oil, when it comes to protecting the hair from harm.

Coconut Oil for Skin

Why would anyone smear coconut oil on their face? Well, let’s take a look at the research before we try to answer that question.

This research, published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, studied the anti-inflammatory properties of coconut oil. The study found that coconut oil can reduce specific markers of inflammation that would otherwise damage the skin. Coconut oil can prevent skin irritation, such as rashes.

Another study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Science, looked at plant oils and their skin impacts. The study found that numerous oils, including coconut oil, can reduce skin inflammation and promote wound healing.

Coconut Oil for Lips

Published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, this research reviewed the impact of coconut oil (along with other oils) on female volunteers’ fullness of lips. The researchers found that the addition of coconut oil, along with other oils, was a long-lasting cosmetic treatment that improved lip hydration and fullness.

Coconut Oil for Teeth

A study published in the Niger Medical Journal, looked at the effects of coconut oil on gingivitis and plaque buildup. The study looked at teenage boys and girls, applying coconut oil for 30 days. The study found that coconut oil reduced plaque and gingivitis, starting at about a week from the first day of coconut oil application.

We also found research published in the journal Nature that reviewed the impacts of rinsing the mouth with coconut oil. The study found evidence that coconut oil could reduce plaque buildup; however, more research is needed with larger study populations. People rinsing and spitting with coconut oil should be aware that nausea is a possible side effect.

Coconut Oil Vs. :

Olive oil

Before coconut oil, there was olive oil as the popular cooking fat alternative. And it’s still got loyal fans everywhere. Some people enjoy both olive oil and coconut oil. But olive oil differs in that it has several omega fatty acids, while that in coconut oil (lauric acid) is a unique fat altogether. And while coconut oil can substitute any butter or oil, olive oil cannot do the same, as it has an olive-y aroma or aftertaste.

Butter

People on paleo and keto diets can use either butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, or ghee. Butter lends a rich and creamy flavor and dairy to cooking and baking. Both coconut oil and butter have a high saturated fat content, which is thought of as bad for you. However, new research shows that foods with high saturated fat content aren’t necessarily unhealthy. It’s just that unsaturated fats protect your heart, while saturated fats can act either beneficially or neutrally.

MCT oil

You’ve already read about MCTs, several of which coconut oil contains. But there is a concentrated version of MCT known as MCT oil. It may seem to be more concentrated than coconut oil, but the latter has different MCT oil strains. On the other hand, lauric acid is not a true MCT oil. That’s because it doesn’t act the same way as a true MCT oil would in the body, although it was named as one by chemists.

Canola oil

Believe it or not, most of the fat in canola oil is monounsaturated. And it’s mostly omega-3 fatty acids, meaning it lowers cholesterol, improves insulin sensitivity, and reduces inflammation. Calorie and fat-wise, it’s the same as coconut oil. But it has 15 percent of your recommended intake of vitamin E and 12 percent of vitamin K.

Your preference depends on what your dietary needs and goals are. Or you can decide where you want your saturated and unsaturated fats to come from. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, you should get less than 10 percent of your calories from foods with high saturated fat content.

Avocado oil

It is both nutritious and a great coconut oil substitute, containing heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Also suitable for Paleo and keto diets. One caveat: It cannot be substituted for every instance of cooking or baking the way coconut oil can, due to its lingering aftertaste.

Palm oil

While palm oil contains high amounts of vitamin E, which coconut oil does not, the latter has a balance of saturated fat content and nine times less palmitic acid. The fact that palm oil is used in many packaged foods, personal care, and cleaning products should also tell you something about how undesirable it is for people cutting down on processed foods.

Ghee

Also known as clarified butter, ghee is like butter with all the unnecessary moisture, proteins, sugars, and starch removed. That means it’s pure butterfat with high amounts of vitamins A, D, and K2. It’s a possible alternative for lactose-intolerant people.

Vegetable oil

Let’s get one thing straight: Coconut oil IS a type of vegetable oil, but it has a high saturated fat content rather than unsaturated fat. When you read “vegetable oil” on the grocery store’s bottles, what you’re reading is a blend of mostly soybean oil plus other oils, including corn, safflower, sunflower, canola (rapeseed), peanut, olive, sesame, coconut, cottonseed and palm oils. Different brands have different blends and sometimes change the ingredients, so you can never really be sure what you’re getting.

Since vegetable oil contains unsaturated fats, it breaks down during the cooking process to oxidize and create free radicals. Coconut oil, on the other hand, does not get damaged during cooking, has a high smoke point, maintains nutrients (such as omega fatty acids and other antioxidants), and is easily digested. It is resistant to rancidification and is slow to oxidize due to the climate in which it’s grown: high humidity makes it able to resist fungi, molds, bacteria, and viruses.

If you’re still trying to decide is coconut oil good for you, consider this. As a supposed miracle food or superfood, you can think of it this way: Don’t replace your unsaturated fats such as nuts and seeds with coconut oil. Your diet should include a variety of fats. The hype surrounding coconut oil’s health benefits has been exaggerated to the extent of considering it a miracle food or superfood. No kind of fat will ever be 100% healthy for you. We know that different types of fats and specific amounts are necessary for our energy and health.

There are no miracle or superfoods out there that will help you lose weight any faster. You need to learn how to choose foods that are less calorie dense, so you eat more and lose more at the same time. That’s what Noom teaches users. Check it out today!

Coconut Oil And:

What impact does coconut oil have, if any, on cognitive health, cardiovascular health, and others? Let’s take a closer look at some of the research surrounding coconut oil.

Memory, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

When it comes to memory health, various natural substances seem to provide aid in this regard. One of which is coconut oil. According to a recent study conducted by Oxford University, both Alzheimer’s and dementia patients experienced short-term benefits by using this oil as a form of treatment. Additionally, multiple studies show that coconut oil can be very beneficial to cognitive health. By simply adding coconut oil to your diet, you can promote outstanding brain health and reduce the chance of developing dementia.

The objective was to assess the cognitive impact that coconut oil has on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The clinical trial consisted of 44 Alzheimer patients living in the region of Ribera (Valencia). Half of these patients were administered 40 ml of coconut oil daily for 21 days, divided between breakfast and lunch Patients noticed a significant improvement in orientation and language-construction areas.

Another study’s goal was to determine if Alzheimer patients notice increased cognitive function after following a coconut oil enriched Mediterranean diet. Prospective, longitudinal, qualitative, analytic, and experimental methods were used on 44 patients with Alzheimer’s. As a result, coconut oil was shown to create improvements in episodic, temporal orientation, and semantic memory.

Coconut oil has been proven to contain a high level of medium-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are abnormal because they are easily metabolized by the liver, converted into ketones, which have been known as a vital alternative energy source for the brain. The review’s goal was to research the literature surrounding coconut to determine its therapeutic benefits as it pertains to Alzheimer’s.

When it comes to the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, a nutritional approach seems to be the safest and most socially accepted form of intervention. However, given the complexity of this field, further advancements are needed. A few options include: Advancing research funding opportunities beyond those available from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and design trial methodology and data analysis techniques to account for complexities in dietary patterns.

Another study covers how the metabolism of coconut oil and medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) may play a role in compensating the glucose hypometabolism that’s observed in the brain of an Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patient. Additionally, it also discussed the influence coconut oil and MCFA have on other chronic conditions that act as risk factors for AD.

Finally, in the study, treatment with coconut oil, octanoic, decanoic, and lauric acids led to a moderate increase in ketone bodies compared to controls. Another finding was that coconut oil enhances the signaling of cell survival pathways. However, it is more effective at rescuing cells in a shorter time frame rather than over more prolonged exposure.

Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Health

Known for various benefits, coconut oil has also been scientifically tested to determine its effect on cardiovascular health. According to AHA Journals, when compared to other nontropical vegetable oils, they found that coconut oil significantly boosted plasma LDL cholesterol and dense lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Still, it didn’t impact triglycerides, fat in the body, or weight, including an indication of inflammation and glycemia. However, due to its high saturated fat content, it could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Replacing coconut oil with vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fat will pose health benefits. When cooking, coconut oil should not be used as routine cooking oil, but it can be used on occasion to add texture or flavor.

A randomized trial reviewed the impact virgin coconut oil (VCO) consumption has on plasma lipoprotein levels, including adverse events. The study population consisted of 35 healthy Thai volunteers, all aged between 18 and 25. As a result of the study, they “found an increase in HDL-C levels among young, healthy volunteers taking dietary supplements with 15 mL of VCO twice daily, as compared with taking control (2% CMC solution), and found no significant harmful side effects.”

Participants of another study were asked to consume 50 g daily of either extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or unsalted butter, for four weeks. The primary outcome involved changes in serum LDL-C. In conclusion, butter and coconut oil were both found to have different impacts on blood lipids than olive oil.

A meta-analysis examined 16 articles from PubMed, SCOPUS, Cochrane Registry, and Web of Science through June 2019. As a conclusion, they found that consuming coconut oil leads to a significantly higher LDL-cholesterol than nontropical vegetable oils. This data should inform choices regarding coconut oil consumption.

As part of one review, 21 research papers were examined to determine any heart health benefits from coconut oil consumption. After a thorough analysis, it suggested that coconut oil increases total cholesterol, HDL-C, and LDL-C compared to unsaturated plant oils.

Many studies consistently suggest that coconut oil increases low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), increasing the risks of adverse cardiovascular events. Due to these findings, coconut oil should only be consumed based on the USDA’s daily recommendation (less than 10% of total calorie intake).

The goal of this review was to analyze evidence regarding coconut oil consumption and the impact it has on cardiovascular health. After being compared to plant oils, it was found that coconut oil showed a better lipid profile. Another conclusion was that coconut oil increased HDL-C and LDL-C at a high level.

Weight

According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there has been much speculation around if coconut oil can lead to weight loss. However, the media has primarily relied on studies involving medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil. Today, medical professionals analyze if and how MCT-related research can be applied to coconut oil, including if coconut oil can work as a benefit for weight loss. However, the current reports suggest a lack of consistent evidence about coconut oil, satiety, and weight loss. Long-form clinical trials are warranted given the increase in consumption of coconut oil among the public.

Although there has been much speculation surrounding coconut oil, further evidence is needed if it can lead to weight loss. Current research examines if and how medium-chain triglycerides (MCT)-related research can be applied to coconut oil, including the impact of coconut oil consumption on weight loss.

One review examined if coconut oil affects the bone, water, and fat percentage of obese men. Additionally, the review also examined coconut oil’s effect on blood abnormalities. A controlled and randomized clinical trial was performed with 29 men with obesity. Upon completing the study, it was found that coconut oil used in a high-protein, moderate-fat diet could boost high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, while simultaneously causing a drop in the total cholesterol/high-density lipoprotein cholesterol ratio in obese men.

Another review examines the impact coconut oil consumption has on people’s risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and/or diabetes. This is determined by analyzing lipid content and percentages in participants’ blood samples, before and after coconut oil consumption. Many randomized controlled trials suggest that coconut oil consumption increases low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDLC), and total cholesterol when compared with other vegetable oils.

Evidence was gathered as it pertains to the impact coconut oil has on weight loss. In the study, a random and controlled clinical trial was completed on 29 adult men with obesity. In conclusion, it was found that coconut oil used as part of a high protein, fat-based diet could boost good cholesterol. Additionally, this could also cause a drop in the total cholesterol/high-density lipoprotein cholesterol ratio in obese men.

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Inflammation and Immune Function

During the past few years, coconut oil has become popular not only as a cooking ingredient but also for its health benefits. What does science have to say about coconut oil? Here are a few studies to consider.

In Vitro Anti-inflammatory And Skin Protective Properties Of Virgin Coconut Oil

Published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in 2019, this study took a closer look at the mechanics of virgin coconut oil and its effect on the body’s inflammatory processes. The researchers added virgin coconut oil to human cells such as monocytes (cells of the immune system) and keratinocytes (cells that play a role in keratin production). The researchers found that coconut oil inhibited specific inflammation markers, such as interleukins, interferons, and tumor necrosis factors (TNF). The researchers showed that virgin coconut oil could reduce inflammation of the skin by inhibiting these proteins and factors.

Antibacterial And Immunomodulator Activities Of Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) Against Staphylococcus Aureus

Published in Heliyon in 2019, this study took a look at the ability of coconut oil to fight bacterial infections caused by staph. The researchers isolated staph and added coconut oil to it in a lab setting. The researchers found, when compared to a control population that did not have coconut oil, the addition of coconut oil to staph colonies reduced its growth, providing a possible new target for an antibacterial agent.

Coconut Oil and Immunity

Published in the Journal of Associated Physicians in India in 2020, this review summarized current research regarding coconut oil. The review looked at several studies showing that coconut oil has antimicrobial properties that could help fight bacteria and viruses. Furthermore, the researchers showed evidence that coconut oil reduces inflammation, claiming that more research should be done to explore coconut oil.

Coconut Oil Pros and Cons

We can easily observe the effects of applying coconut oil on the skin, using it for oil pulling, or to treat certain infections.

It is an appropriate alternative to other saturated fats in cooking and baking. This, however, does not make it a food group, and its value is still as a supplement to a healthy diet and lifestyle and according to appropriate dietary and medical guidelines.

It is beneficial when used in moderation and should not replace any foods or other nutritionally unique supplements.

Pros:

  • Coconut oil is easy to find online and in stores.
  • It’s an affordable cooking and alternative health option.
  • Research studies have shown some potential health benefits.
  • Due to popularity, more and more research is being completed.
  • Extremely long shelf life. 
  • Does not require refrigeration.
  • You can consume coconut oil without cooking or heating.

Cons:

  • Researchers and experts are debating if this saturated fat could cause heart issues.
  • With that in mind, coconut oil is not safe for every. Talk with your healthcare provider if you’re watching saturated fat.

What’s the Final Take on Coconut Oil?

The answer to the question “is coconut oil good for you” is overall, yes. It’s proven to be an effective topical treatment, but we don’t fully know all the effects of coconut oil once we’ve ingested it.

Long-term effects are similar to those found in other beneficial saturated fats, and taking it in large amounts is not recommended. Some proponents advertise it as being healthier than it is, without tangible evidence to back it up.

Coconut oil is in demand and needs to be taken seriously, and that means it needs more scientific research. And since every person has unique health needs, the decision to use coconut oil ultimately lies with them.

Whether you’re trying coconut oil for your health or as part of a weight-loss program, Noom can help. To learn more about how to improve your health with weight loss, check out Noom today!

Questions and Answers on Coconut Oil

What is coconut oil good for?

Coconut oil is good for cooking, skincare, and it even carries some health benefits, based on research. Recently, due to increased popularity, research into coconut oil has expanded.

Is coconut oil bad for you?

Coconut oil is a rich source of saturated fats (90% by volume, to be exact). That’s much higher than butter, which comes in at around 64% saturated fat. Excessive saturated fat intake can cause increased LDL cholesterol, also referred to as “bad” cholesterol.

Can I eat coconut oil directly?

Yes, you can eat coconut oil directly. Some people choose to make “fat bombs” with coconut oil when following a carb-controlled diet and others decide to add it to smoothies or shakes. As with any fat, coconut oil will separate from water-based ingredients.

Is coconut oil better than olive oil?

Coconut oil and olive oil are different, and each comes with a long list of potential benefits, so one is not necessarily better than the other. If you’re watching saturated fat intake, it may be best to speak with your healthcare provider before using coconut oil because it’s nearly 100% saturated fat.

What is fractionated coconut oil?

Fractionated coconut oil comprises fewer medium-chain fatty acids and, as such, stays liquid when cold. Traditional coconut oil hardens at lower temperatures.

Does coconut oil expire?

Yes, coconut oil does expire. If purchased in the United States, the packaging should have a printed Best By date. Typically, coconut oil lasts between 18 months and two years, but times vary by brand.

How long does coconut oil last?

Coconut oil can last up to two years. The oil will go rancid, so always check the Best By date before use if you’re unsure about your coconut oil age.

Is coconut oil good for your hair?

Coconut oil is good for your hair, based on some scientific research. It helps protect the hair shaft from protein loss, and the shape and structure make it easier for the oil to be absorbed.

Is coconut oil good for your face?

Coconut oil contains linoleic and lauric acids, which help the skin retain moisture and provide antibacterial benefits, respectively.

Is coconut oil antibacterial? Yes, coconut oil has been shown to have antibacterial activity in clinical research and practice.