Coconut oil (Cocos nucifera)
Coconut oil, or copra oil, is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat of mature coconuts harvested from the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). It has various applications. Because of its high saturated fat content, it is slow to oxidize and, thus, resistant to rancidification, lasting up to six months at 24 °C (75 °F) without spoiling.
Due to its high levels of saturated fat, the World Health Organization, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, United States Food and Drug Administration, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, British National Health Service, British Nutrition Foundation, and Dietitians of Canada advise that coconut oil consumption should be limited or avoided.
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Coconut oil contains a large proportion of lauric acid, a saturated fat that raises total blood cholesterol levels by increasing both the amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Although this may create a more favorable total blood cholesterol profile, this does not exclude the possibility that persistent consumption of coconut oil may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease through other mechanisms, particularly via the marked increase of blood cholesterol induced by lauric acid. Because the majority of saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, coconut oil may be preferred over partially hydrogenated vegetable oil when solid fats are used in the diet. Due to its high content of saturated fat with corresponding high caloric burden, regular use of coconut oil in food preparation may promote weight gain.
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Nutrition and fat composition
Coconut oil is 99% fat, composed mainly of saturated fats (82% of total; table). In a 100 gram reference amount, coconut oil supplies 890 Calories. Half of the saturated fat content of coconut oil is lauric acid, while other significant saturated fats are myristoleic acid and palmitoleic acid. Monounsaturated fats comprise 6% of total fats, and polyunsaturated fats comprise 2% (table). Coconut oil contains phytosterols, but there are no micronutrients having significant content (table).
Nutritional Profile of Coconut Oil: Part of the reason coconut oil is such a powerhouse superfood is its unique nutritional profile. It was avoided and shunned for years because of its 92% saturated fat content but recent research is showing this stigma was unwarranted. Most of the fats in coconut oil are saturated but they are in the form of MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides, also called MCFAs), which affect the body differently than short and long chain fats.
- Saturated fatty acids: Most of them are medium chain triglycerides, which are supposed to assimilate well in the body’s systems.
- Lauric acid: It is the chief contributor, representing more than 40% of the total, followed by capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin. Lauric acid is helpful in dealing with viruses and diseases.
- Capric acid: It reacts with certain enzymes secreted by other bacteria, which subsequently converts it into a powerful antimicrobial agent, monocaprin.
- Caprylic acid, caproic acid, and myristic acid: They are rich in antimicrobial and antifungal properties
- Unsaturated fatty acids: Polyunsaturated fatty acids- linoleic acid, monounsaturated fatty acids- oleic acid
- Poly-phenols: Coconut contains gallic acid, which is also known as phenolic acid. These polyphenols are responsible for the fragrance and the taste of coconut oil. Virgin Coconut Oil is rich in these polyphenols.
- Derivatives of fatty acid: Betaines, ethanolamide, ethoxylates, fatty esters, fatty polysorbates, monoglycerides and polyol esters.
- Derivatives of fatty alcohols: Fatty chlorides, fatty alcohol sulfate, and fatty alcohol ether sulfate
- Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin E, vitamin K, and minerals such as iron.
Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs) or Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
Most of the fats we consume are long chain fatty acids that must be broken down before they can be absorbed. Coconut oil is high in short and medium chain fatty acids, which are easily digested and sent right to the liver for energy production. Because MCFAs are sent right to the liver for digestion, no bile or pancreatic enzymes are needed for digestion, making coconut oil a healthy food even for those with diabetes or those who have gallbladder problems. MCFAs can help increase metabolism since they are sent directly to the liver and give the body an instant source of energy. Most of the MCFAs in coconut oil are the highly beneficial Lauric Acid.
Benefits of MCFAs (MCTs)
- All of these MCTs are beneficial to the body. They are metabolized differently than longer chain fats, going straight from the digestive system to the liver. This provides a quick source of energy and brain fuel.
- These rare oils are naturally free of cholesterol and hard to find in nature.
- This may be part of the reason that coconut oil is so beneficial to the brain and for weight loss. It isn’t digested or stored in the same was as other fats and is more quickly available for use.
- Coconut oil is also a decent source of several fat soluble vitamins (mainly A and K) as well as healthy polyphenols.
Types of Coconut Oil
Unrefined Organic Coconut Oil: Considered the gold standard. This type of oil offers the most of the benefits listed above. It is extracted from fresh coconut using a wet-milled fermentation process that protects the beneficial properties of the coconut. This type of coconut oil has been found to have the highest antioxidant levels. This process does use heat but studies show that it does not harm the oil or reduce nutrient levels. In fact, the heat may be beneficial and create a higher quality oil.
“Extra Virgin” Oil: The gold standard for olive oil but not coconut oil. This is produced by cold-pressing the oil and does not preserve the antioxidants as well. In 2013, a study that compared “cold extracted virgin coconut oil” (CEVCO) with “hot extracted virgin coconut oil” (HEVCO) and standard refined coconut oil (CCO) was conducted in India, and published in the journal Food Science and Biotechnology. This study, like many others, showed that virgin coconut oils actually lower LDL cholesterol, while raising the “good” HDL cholesterol. This study also confirmed that virgin coconut oil produced with heat produced the highest amounts of antioxidants: “The antioxidant activity in the HEVCO group was 80-87%, 65-70% in CEVCO, and 35-45% in CCO.” The researchers went on to comment why heat is necessary to produce the highest amounts of antioxidants in virgin coconut oil.
Refined Coconut Oils: often tasteless and has no coconut smell. It is usually heated, bleached and deodorized. Healthy options are available but many refined coconut oils do not have the benefits of unrefined.
Fractionated oil or MCT oil is a liquid oil that does not get solid below 76 degrees like unrefined oil does. It doesn’t contain all of the beneficial properties of unrefined coconut oil but is higher in brain-boosting fats.
Coconut Oil Benefits
Coconut Oil for Hair– This nourishing oil has been used for centuries in hair and its unique fat composition makes it especially beneficial for certain hair types. Use it as a hair mask, hot oil treatment, or in homemade hair products.
To Moisturize and Nourish Skin– The same properties make coconut oil great for skin as well. Many people like to use it as a natural moisturizer. Its natural antioxidant properties make it great for stopping wrinkles and skin irritation. Coconut oil is wonderful as a face cleanser, moisturizer and sun screen, but also it can treat many skin disorders. The fatty acids (caprylic and lauric) in coconut oil reduce inflammation internally and externally and moisturize, making them a great solution for all types of skin conditions. It protects the skin and has many antioxidants that make it ideal for healing the skin. In addition, the antimicrobial properties balance out the candida or fungal sources that can cause many skin conditions. There’s so much unrefined coconut oil can do for skin.
Help remineralize teeth – Calcium is an important component of our teeth. Since coconut oil facilitates absorption of calcium by the body, it helps in developing strong teeth. It also stops tooth decay. Recent research suggests that it is also beneficial in reducing plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis. Oil pulling with coconut oil has been used for centuries as a way to cleanse the mouth of bacteria and help heal periodontal disease. Coconut oil is one of the most effective oils for oil pulling due to its high concentration of antibacterial MCFAs. By swishing the oil in your mouth, the oil denatures the bacteria and sticks to it. Removing oral bacteria greatly reduces your risk of periodontal disease. If you want to heal your gums and repair your teeth, its recommended to do coconut oil pulling three times a week for 20 minutes a day.
Digestive Help– Coconut oil’s concentration of beneficial fats in coconut oil makes it helpful for digestion. Coconut oil helps to improve the digestive system, and thus, prevents various stomach and digestion-related problems including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The saturated fats present in it have antimicrobial properties and help in dealing with various bacteria, fungi, and parasites that can cause indigestion. It also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Coconut oil can help improve bacteria and gut health by destroying bad bacteria and candida. Candida imbalance especially can decrease stomach acid, which causes inflammation and poor digestion. All this together means coconut oil benefits digestive health and helps treat or prevent stomach ulcers and ulcerative colitis.
Keeping Organs Healthy – The presence of medium chain triglycerides and fatty acids in coconut oil helps in preventing liver diseases. This is because those substances are easily converted into energy when they reach the liver, thus reducing the workload of the liver and also preventing accumulation of fat. It also helps in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases and helps to dissolve kidney stones. Coconut oil is also believed to be useful in keeping pancreas healthy by treating pancreatitis. The MCFAs of coconut oil do not need the pancreatic enzymes to be broken down, so taking coconut oil eases the strain on the pancreas. Additionally, this superfood is so easy to digest that it has been known to improve the symptoms of gallbladder disease as well. Replace other long-chain fats with coconut oil to improve gallbladder and total body health.
Great Source of Healthy Fats– Over 50% of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid. In fact, coconut oil is the richest source of lauric acid after breastmilk. Topically, it helps skin heal faster after injury or infection because of its beneficial fats – When applied to infected areas, coconut oil forms a chemical layer that protects the infected body part from external dust, air, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. It is highly effective on bruises because it speeds up the healing process of damaged tissues.
Mental Boost– Studies show MCTs may contribute to focus and mental performance. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Neurobiology of Aging, researchers found that the MCFAs in coconut oil improved the memory problems in their older subjects. Across all the patients there was a marked improvement in their recall ability after taking this fatty acid. As the MCFAs are absorbed easily in the body and can be accessed in the brain without the use of insulin. Thus, they are able to fuel brain cells more efficiently.
Hormone Support– Getting the wrong kinds of fats can create havoc on hormones. Coconut oil contains specific fats that support the body’s natural hormone production. Coconut oil may help naturally balance hormones because it’s a great source of saturated fat, including lauric acid. Studies have found that coconut oil may be an excellent fat to consume during menopause and also may have positives effects on estrogen levels. In order to naturally balance hormones, reduce sugar and grain consumption and load up on healthy fats from coconut, avocado, flax seeds and ghee. You can also consume other coconut forms, such as coconut butter or coconut water.
Immune Support– The MCTs have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties that make it beneficial for immune support. It strengthens the immune system because it contains antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, which have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which research has supported as an effective way to deal with viruses and bacteria that cause diseases like herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. Coconut oil helps in fighting harmful bacteria like listeria monocytogenes and Helicobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. According to the Coconut Research Center, coconut oil kills the viruses that cause influenza, measles, hepatitis, herpes, SARS, and other serious health risks. It also kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gonorrhea. Finally, coconut oil is also effective in the elimination of fungi and yeast that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, and diaper rash.
Helps in AIDS & Cancer Treatment – It is believed that coconut oil plays an instrumental role in reducing the viral susceptibility of HIV and cancer patients. Preliminary research has shown an indication of this effect of coconut oil on reducing the viral load of HIV patients.
Boosts Heart Health – This is a controversial topic. There is enough research to prove that coconut oil is not good for the heart due to the presence of saturated fats. While there is also research that shows that coconut oil is good for the heart. Lauric acid present in coconut oil helps in actively preventing various heart problems like high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Coconut oil does not lead to increase in LDL levels, and it reduces the incidence of injury and damage to arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis. A study suggests that intake of coconut oil may help in maintaining healthy lipid profiles in pre-menopausal women. So, finally, is coconut oil good or bad for the heart? Well, if you are using it for edible purposes, check your cholesterol levels regularly. If you find them increasing, it is better to stop the intake. In any case, do consult a professional medical practitioner before you start consuming coconut oil. Never play with your (and someone else’s) heart!
Great fat for cooking- Coconut oil is a stable oil that doesn’t break down easily at high temperatures like other oils do. It doesn’t go rancid easily and has amazing nutritional properties. It is great for cooking eggs, stir fries, grain free baked goods, and practically any other cooking use.
Prevents Candida – Candida, also known as Systemic Candidiasis, is a tragic disease caused by an excessive and uncontrolled growth of yeast called Candida albicans in the stomach. Coconut provides relief from the inflammation caused by candida, both externally and internally. Its high moisture retaining capacity keeps the skin from cracking or peeling off. Capric acid, caprylic acid, caproic acid, myristic acid and lauric acid found in coconut oil help in eliminating Candida albicans. Further, unlike other pharmaceutical treatments for candida, the effect of coconut oil is gradual and not drastic or sudden, which gives the patient an appropriate amount of time to get used to the withdrawal symptoms or Herxheimer reactions (the name given to the symptoms accompanying body’s rejection of toxins generated during elimination of these fungi). But in the treatment of this condition, people should systematically and gradually increase their dosages of coconut oil, and shouldn’t initially start with a large quantity.
Speeds weight loss when consumed daily – It contains short and medium-chain fatty acids that help in taking off excessive weight. Research suggests that it helps to reduce abdominal obesity in women. It is also easy to digest as compared to other edible oils and helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and endocrine system. Further, it increases body’s metabolic rate by removing stress on the pancreas, thereby, burning more energy and helping obese and overweight people lose weight. Hence, people living in tropical coastal areas, who use coconut oil every day as their primary cooking oil, are normally not fat, obese or overweight. Several people focus on exercises to lose weight, from using indoor machines like leg press machines to outdoor exercises like running and playing sports. While this is a good approach to lose weight, including products like coconut oil enhances your weight loss efforts.
Other Benefits – Coconut oil is strongly recommended for a number of other benefits that are explained below. Using this oil has been shown to mildly help the following:
Stress relief: Coconut oil is very soothing, and hence it helps in removing stress. Applying it to the head, followed by a gentle massage, helps eliminate mental fatigue. According to research virgin coconut oil gives relief from stress and has antioxidant properties.
Diabetes: Coconut oil helps in controlling blood sugar, and improves the secretion of insulin. It also promotes the effective utilization of blood glucose, thereby, preventing and treating diabetes. When cells refuse to respond to insulin and no longer take in glucose for energy, then they’re considered insulin-resistant. The pancreas then pumps out more insulin to compensate and creates an overproduction cycle. Insulin resistance is the precursor to type II diabetes. The MCFAs in coconut oil help balance the insulin reactions in the cells and promote healthy digestive process. They take off the strain on the pancreas and give the body a consistent energy source that is not dependent on glucose reactions, which can prevent insulin resistance and type II diabetes.
Bones: As mentioned earlier, coconut oil improves the ability of our body to absorb important minerals. These include calcium and magnesium, which are necessary for the development of bones. Thus, it is very useful for women who are prone to osteoporosis after middle age. Oxidative stress and free radicals are the two biggest culprits of osteoporosis. Since coconut oil has such high levels of antioxidants, which help fight free radicals, it is a leading natural treatment for osteoporosis. Another of the amazing coconut oil benefits is that it increases calcium absorption in the gut. Research on osteoporosis has found that coconut oil not only increases bone volume and structure in subjects, but also decreased bone loss due to osteoporosis.
Boosts Energy: Coconut oil is often used by athletes, bodybuilders and by those who are dieting. The reason behind this being that it contains fewer calories than other oils, its fat content is easily converted into energy, and it does not lead to accumulation of fat in the heart and arteries. It helps boost energy and endurance, and generally, enhances the performance of athletes. Coconut oil is easy to digest and also produces a longer sustained energy and increases your metabolism. When taking a quality unrefined coconut oil, you can get the most coconut oil benefits as its MCFAs are sent directly to the liver to be converted into energy. Today, many triathletes use coconut oil as their source of fuel during training and races for long-distance events. You can make a homemade energy fuel by mixing coconut oil, raw honey and chia seeds together. Simply put together one tablespoon of each and consume 30 minutes prior to exercise.
Coconut oil and Alzheimer’s disease: The research conducted by Dr. Newport states that the oil is useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease. One of the most beneficial properties of coconut oil is the large quantity of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) that it contains, as opposed to the long-chain fatty acids that many other foods contain. The reasoning behind the benefits of this type of acid is that medium-chain fatty acids are not only absorbed easily by the liver, but they are also metabolized quickly. This means they can further be converted into ketones. Ketones are utilized by the brain as an important energy source and have been shown to have possible therapeutic effects on people suffering from memory loss, such as in case of Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, unique phenolic compounds and hormones found in coconut oil may be able to prevent the aggregation of amyloid beta peptides, which are part of a leading theory concerning the cause of Alzheimer’s.
Use as Carrier Oil
Carrier oils are those oils, which easily penetrate or absorb into the skin, facilitating seepage or absorption of other oils (such as essential oils) and herbal extracts when mixed into it. It is easily absorbed through the skin’s pores and thus is used as a carrier oil. Furthermore, being one of the most stable oils, it doesn’t go rancid, nor does it let the other oils, herbal extracts, or medicines spoil inside of it. It does not alter the properties of the oils and herbs mixed within it. It also protects the herbs and oils from microbial or fungal interactions. Coconut oil is expensive in several countries; however, in tropical countries, its cost is low enough to make it affordable as a carrier oil.
Coconut Oil Beauty Uses
Coconut oil is an excellent massage oil that acts as an effective moisturizer on all types of skin, including dry skin. Unlike mineral oil, there is no chance of having any adverse side effects on the skin from the application of this oil. Therefore, it has been safely used for thousands of years for preventing dryness and flaking of skin. Yes, you read it right – thousands of years! Coconut oil usage may be termed as a recent fad, but it has been there for ages.
It also helps in treating various skin problems, including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, and other skin infections. For this exact reason, coconut oil forms the base ingredient of various body care products like soaps, lotions, and creams that are used for skin care. What more? It also delays the appearance of wrinkles and sagging of skin, which normally accompany aging. The credit to this benefit goes to its well-known antioxidant properties.
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Coconut Oil For Hair –
This thick butter-like oil helps in healthy growth of hair and makes your hair shiny. It is also highly effective in reducing protein loss, which if unchecked can lead to various unhealthy qualities in your hair. This is the reason why it is used as hair care oil, and in manufacturing various conditioners, and dandruff relief creams. Now you must be thinking how to use coconut oil for your hair? Just apply it topically to your hair or use a coconut oil hair mask. It is an excellent conditioner and helps the re-growth process of damaged hair. It also provides the essential proteins required for nourishing and healing damaged hair. Research studies indicate that it provides better protection to hair from damage caused by hygral fatigue. By regularly massaging your head with coconut oil, you can ensure that your scalp is dandruff free, even if your scalp is chronically dry. It also helps in keeping your hair and scalp free from lice and lice eggs (yes, some people do get lice in their hair).
- Rub into scalp daily to stimulate hair growth
- Or use in homemade shampoo bars
- A tiny dab rubbed on your hands and then through hair makes a great anti-frizz treatment
- As an incredibly intensive natural conditioner- Rub into dry hair, put a shower cap on and leave for several hours before washing out with several rounds of shampoo
Body Scrub – Moisturize while getting rid of dead skin cells by making your own body (or facial) scrub. Just mix coconut oil with coconut sugar to reveal smoother skin. Try it a few times a week.
Coconut Oil Shampoo – Here is one of my favorite coconut oil shampoo recipes, that will leave your hair feeling soft and healthy. As every person’s hair is different, feel free to adjust the coconut oil level to suit your hair needs. For fine hair you may reduce the coconut oil amount as needed to 1/4 cup, and for thick dry or curly hair, you may need to increase this amount or add a few drops of avocado oil as well.
- 1 cup liquid castile soap
- 1/3 cup canned coconut milk
- 1/3 cup coconut oil
- 50-60 drops of favorite essential oils
Melt coconut oil and coconut milk together over very low heat, as to not damage any of the nutrients. Pour into a bottle with a secure lid, and top with the castile soap. Shake well. And then, shake some more. Add 50 drops of your favorite essential oils, and shake again. Great essential oils for hair include lavender, wild orange, peppermint, lemongrass, rosemary, clary sage, and rosemary. This shampoo will not be as thick as commercial shampoos; squeeze on hair directly from the bottle. Wash, and rinse well.
Coconut Oil Conditioner
- 2/3 cup coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon vitamin E oil
- 1 tablespoon Jojoba oil
- 10 drops of your favorite essential oil
Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a hand mixer until well combined. This may take several minutes. You want a smooth and creamy conditioner. In the shower, after washing hair with Coconut Oil Shampoo, use a teaspoon or two and smooth through hair. Allow to penetrate hair for the remainder of your shower, and rinse very well.
NOTE: If you color your hair, especially red, coconut oil may fade the color. For most hair types and colors, it will not.
BONUS: Coconut oil is a great base for natural hair colors as it penetrates the hair shaft. For darker hair, mix 2 tablespoons of coconut oil with 1 cup of strong coffee, with 1 tablespoon of spent grounds, and apply to hair. Allow to sit for 45 – 60 minutes, the longer you leave it, the darker the results. Rinse well and style as desired.
For blonde hair, or to add subtle highlights, mix 1/2 cup of strong chamomile tea, ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, and ¼ cup coconut oil in a blender until emulsified. Apply to hair and roots and cover with a shower cap. Sit in the sun, or use a hair dryer to keep the cap warm for 45 minutes to 75 minutes. Rinse well.