By Dana Gross & Rachel Ling
Coconut Oil may have been the best-kept secret in countries like Thailand and Vietnam, but luckily for us, the Coconut industry has exploded – specifically, the coconut oil industry making it available worldwide. Not only does it add delicious flavor to all of your sweet and savory dishes, but it also has tons of health benefits for your skin, hair, and overall health. Let’s have a closer look at coconut oil and find out what qualifies this delicious ingredient as a “superfood.”
Coconut Oil Breakdown
Coconut oil packs an impressive amount of healthy saturated fats into one heaping tablespoon. “Healthy” saturated fat, you say? Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Too good to be true? Yes and No. Fast forward to a quick chemistry lesson:
All fats are not the same
Fats can be characterized as saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats can be further categorized into short-, medium- and long-chain fatty acids. The difference in molecular make-up is what influences how the body processes each source. Unlike long-chain fatty acids, medium-chain fatty acids are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. They don’t raise blood cholesterol as much as long-chain fatty acids do, and they don’t appear to be stored in the body’s fat tissue as readily as long-chain fatty acids are.
Coconut oil has been of interest because it contains both medium-chain and long-chain fatty acids. The primary component, however, is lauric acid. Based on its structure and function, lauric acid lands in the middle, behaving in some ways like a medium-chain fatty acid and in other ways like a long-chain fatty acid. Therefore, when consumed in large quantities, in theory, coconut oil can raise both bad cholesterol (LDL) AND good cholesterol (HDL). This is where the controversy stems from in regards to the many claims of coconut oil being a source of “healthy” saturated fat. When we speak of health benefits from consuming coconut oil, we are really referring to Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs), which the liver uses to turn into energy or ketones in the body. Studies have shown that MCFAs promote weight loss indirectly by increasing the body’s production of hormones that reduce appetite and make a person feel full longer.
Cooking with Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has a high smoke point. This means that it remains stable and does not oxidize when cooked using high temperatures. It is important to note as oxidized oils can create harmful byproducts like free radicals. When used in baking or cooking, coconut oil can be a healthier alternative to butter in addition to releasing a soft coconut flavor in the final product. You can use coconut oil for frying eggs, in mashed potatoes, served over lentils, or served with pasta. For baking, you can replace less healthy oils with coconut oil in brownies, cakes, and some cookie recipes.
The Benefits of Applying Coconut Oil Topically
Fans of coconut oil are not only spreading the fine oil over their toast, but also over their legs, arms, and face. Back to those MCTs! The fatty acids found in coconut oil show promising benefits for the skin, such as its moisturizing abilities, reducing inflammation, and its superior antimicrobial properties thanks to high quantities of lauric acid. Many report improved skin conditions such as eczema, acne, psoriasis, superficial burns, contact dermatitis, etc. after using coconut oil topically. Natural beauty lovers have used coconut oil as a hair mask to nourish dry, brittle hair. Similarly, it can also be used on dry skin, as natural lip balm, or to tame excess frizz.
Coconut Oil Dental Health
Lastly, many are using coconut oil for their dental hygiene. With its antimicrobial properties, coconut oil has been proven to decrease plaque and bacteria in your gums and around the mouth. Oil-pulling has become a popular means of working coconut oil into a daily dental hygiene routine. So, while there are controversies out there over coconut oil’s health benefits when consumed, it certainly doesn’t hurt to store a container in your bathroom as back up or replacement mouthwash.