Last Update: May 11, 2023
Blueberries can protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Carrots can give you 20:20 eyesight. Fermented foods can calm anxiety. And coconut oil can … do anything.
In the pantheon of the healthiest foods, coconut oil reigns supreme, adding not only a mild tropical flavor to any dish, but also tons of health benefits. Even if you’re not a fan of the taste—coconut oil’s laundry list of superpowers is probably still long enough to convince you. It has tons of beauty benefits, too, and can work wonders around the house.
There’s a reason why everyone from celebrities to top chefs is raving about it—read on to see for yourself!
Much of the nutritional hype around coconut oil comes from it’s wealth of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. The body metabolizes these healthy fats almost instantly, so they’re available for quick energy and don’t get stored as fat. In other words, MCTs are probably the reason why you’ll notice your most health-conscious friends adding coconut oil to everything they cook.
Coconut oil also contains another incredibly good-for-you compound: lauric acid, which actually helps fight off bacteria, microbes, fungi, and other organisms that can make you sick. (These antibacterial properties are also the reason why many people use coconut oil as a topical skin treatment.)
This isn’t just another extra virgin olive oil, though—the health benefits of coconut oil extend far beyond its status as a super nutritious cooking fat.
In one study, researchers from St. Thomas College in India found they were able to reduce symptoms of arthritis (an inflammatory condition) in rats with virgin coconut oil. Though this study hasn’t yet been replicated with humans, the results suggest huge potential for coconut oil as a treatment for other problems triggered by inflammation—and there are tons. Acne, allergies, digestive issues, type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, depression, and neurological disorders can all be traced back to chronic inflammation.
Adding a spoonful of coconut oil into your morning smoothie just might help you stay full for longer. Researchers from the Institut Européen des Sciences du Goût et des Comportements Alimentaires found that when patients ate a breakfast supplemented with MCTs, they didn’t get hungry as early and actually ate less at lunchtime.
Here’s where coconut oil really becomes a one-two punch for weight loss: It not only wards off hunger pangs, but also pushes the body to burn more calories. A small study of eight men out of the University of Geneva found that when participants ate just 15 extra grams of MCTs per day, they burned 120 more calories. While that might not seem like very much, remember that participants didn’t change anything about their routines—like exercise or diet—to burn those extra calories.
If you struggle with losing those last five pounds of belly fat, here’s some good news: coconut oil can help with that, too. When women with abdominal obesity—a buildup of fat around the belly severe enough to cause serious health problems—supplemented their diets with coconut oil, Federal University of Alagoas researchers noticed a promising decrease in waist circumference.
Conventional medical wisdom says that patients with cardiovascular disease should avoid saturated fats, but research shows this just isn’t true for coconut oil. Though this oil is very high in saturated fats—a tablespoon of contains 65 percent of the recommended daily value—it doesn’t affect cholesterol the same way a cheeseburger would. In fact, a study from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro showed that it actually increased the levels of HDL (or good) cholesterol in patients with coronary arterial disease.
Heard of oil pulling? The Ayurvedic practice of swishing coconut oil around the mouth for 15 minutes a day has a reputation for whitening teeth, fighting bad breath, and even improving gum health. Now, recent research out of Kannur Dental College in India backs up the anecdotal evidence: When 60 teenagers practiced oil pulling with coconut oil daily, their levels of plaque and gingivitis decreased after just one week.
Scientists also believe coconut oil could have profound impacts on mental health, though they don’t fully understand the specifics yet. First, studies from the Universiti Putra Malaysia performed on mice have shown that virgin coconut oil has antioxidant, antistress, and antidepressant properties that help keep the brain healthy. Additionally, researchers think certain compounds and hormones found in coconut could possibly help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
With all this evidence laid out, it’s difficult to write off coconut oil as yet another wellness fad. Try it for yourself to experience its health benefits firsthand. Stir-fry veggies in melted oil, incorporate it into your daily smoothies, or even experiment with baking with it—the possibilities are endless.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont
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