Coconut oil is all the rage lately. You’ve heard that it can boost metabolism and encourage weight loss, make your skin glow, clean your teeth, condition your hair, and remove your makeup. Is it true?
Coconut oil is a plant-based saturated fat, and the saturated fats have been wrongly and mercilessly demonized by the mainstream medical industry. This is slowly beginning to change. At one point, saturated fats were blamed for high cholesterol and heart disease. I have written here and here about why that’s not true and why fat is beneficial. We need fats for good health. Your brain is over 70 percent fat, and each and every cell membrane needs fat to maintain its permeability so that nutrients can get into the cell. Too many man made hydrogenated fats (the true bad kinds) and rancid vegetable oils make cell walls rigid so that nutrients can’t pass through.
The ‘saturated fats are bad’ paradigm is beginning to change now that we know how fats really work in the body. In the 80s, we were told tropical oils like coconut and red palm were the killers, and it was all low fat this and that and an explosion of vegetable oils. Did heart disease rates decline? Opposite, actually, due to an increase in heavily refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils and the man made hydrogenated fats/trans fatty acids.
Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid and about 50 percent lauric acid, a component in human breast milk. It has myriad therapeutic benefits used both internally and externally. Clinical studies have shown that coconut oil has anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-pathogenic properties, making it effective in the treatment of everything from candida to herpes to Alzheimer’s (remember, the brain needs fat) to AIDS.
Benefits of Coconut Oil
- aids in weight loss
- boosts thyroid function
- boosts metabolism
- improves immune function
- fights yeast (candida) used both internally or topically for fungus
- improves the health of both skin and hair
- improve dental health
Consider the traditional South Pacific and Polynesian cultures, who traditionally have low rates of cardiovascular disease due to their regular use of coconut oil. Industrialized cultures and the refined and processed foods that come along with it lead to poor health. Highly processed and refined soy, canola, corn and cottonseed oils are the real bad guys. Read here why you should avoid vegetable oil.
As a medium chain fatty acid, coconut oil is burned quickly by the body for energy. By contrast, vegetable or seed oils are long chain fatty acids that are difficult for the body to break down and are predominantly stored as fat. Because it stimulates metabolism and boosts energy, coconut oil can boost thyroid function and contribute positively to weight loss efforts. I see a lot of low thyroid clients, and although hypothryoidism is complicated, coconut oil is one positive piece to throw into the mix of treating it.
How to Use Coconut Oil Therapeutically for Health
You can use up to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil internally per day, one before each meal, therapeutically. That means temporarily to improve cholesterol (boost HDL) and help kill bad bacteria. It’s great for high temperature cooking. The dosage to boost energy and thyroid function, or for weight loss, will obviously depend on the person. Too much can cause loose stool, or if you don’t digest fats well due to poor gall bladder function or congested liver/gall bladder, this may not be ideal for you, and you may fare better just using coconut oil for cooking. Start off with a tablespoon and work up from there, up to 3 tablespoons to see benefits. Do this until you see desired results, and monitor your blood work to make sure it works well for you.
Note that coconut oil may raise LDL levels temporarily also, and that may not be ideal for all.
Topically, use coconut oil on your skin and hair. I use it at night on my face, and it is lovely. My skin loves it. Great for the scalp, too, due to its anti-fungal properties, so you can massage scalp with it to prevent/get rid of dandruff. Use it on fungal infections or any skin condition, even eczema. I’ve heard of folks using coconut oil topically on the neck area where the thyroid is located to boost thyroid function, but I don’t have any direct research saying this works. You can also try oil pulling with coconut oil.
Coconut oil is solid at room temp and a great choice for cooking because it holds up well to heat. Read more here about how to use fats in cooking. Use for high temp sauteing or searing meat. I’ll use it in the pan when I sear meat on both sides before transferring to the oven.
Buy virgin unrefined coconut oils. It should smell vaguely of coconuts. This is true of any oil, really– it should smell like whatever it is. You don’t want the refined kind which has likely been exposed to hexane or chemical extraction methods. Also try coconut butter/cream, which is basically the meat ground finely into a paste. It’s very creamy due to the high fat content. I use it as a spread on gluten free toast, or you can eat it right out of the jar! Great for baking or desserts, or you can add to smoothies or warm drinks. Also check out my vegan fudge recipe made with coconut oil, which also makes a great energy boosting snack!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.