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The pros and the cons of coconut oil

Coconut oil Q & A

Coconut oil has been a controversial topic in recent years, particularly in the field of nutrition. The controversy revolves around the high amount of saturated fat in coconut oil.

Some proponents of coconut oil claim that it can help with weight loss, improve heart health, and even have anti-inflammatory effects. However, others argue that the high levels of saturated fat in coconut oil can increase cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease. So, in a nutshell ( pun intended), here’s what we know, the pros and the cons.

1. What are the health benefits?

Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) associated with various health benefits such as improved brain function, increased energy levels, weight loss, and reduced risk of heart and cognitive diseases. It is expected that ongoing research (1,2,3, 4) will provide a more in-depth understanding of its benefits.

2. Is it good for your skin?

Coconut oil is often used in skincare due to its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. However, it may not suit everyone, particularly those with oily or acne-prone skin.

3. Does it help with weight loss?

Some studies suggest coconut oil may help with weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing metabolism. However, as it is high in saturated fats ( the good plant-based kind) and high in calories (that provide energy), coconut oil should be consumed in moderation, together with a healthy and active lifestyle.

4. Can it be used as a substitute for other cooking oils?

Yes, coconut oil can be used as a substitute for other cooking oils, such as vegetable oil or olive oil. However, the cold-pressed virgin and white cooking coconut oil may not suit all cuisines because of its distinct coconut aroma. So instead, use the steam-deodorized aroma-free coconut oil for a neutral smell. Coconut oil is also very heat-stable and can be heated from 170  to 230 °C. As a general guide: cold pressed coconut oil can be heated between 130 to 170 °C, and the white cooking and deodorized oil can be heated up to 230 °C.

Word of caution: Never heat oil (coconut or otherwise)  until smoking. Excessive heat beyond the smoking point destroys phytochemicals and beneficial nutrients in the oil and the food. Extreme heat also creates highly flammable conditions and releases free radicals that can harm your health if consumed. 

5. Is it high in saturated fat?

Yes, coconut oil is high in saturated fat. However, consuming excessively – like with any oil – can increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Therefore, it is recommended to consume it in moderation as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

6. Is it safe for those with nut allergies?

Coconut is not a tree nut; most people with nut allergies can safely consume coconut products, including coconut oil. However, it is always best to consult a doctor before consuming it if unsure.

7. Can it be used for oil pulling?

Oil pulling involves swishing oil in your mouth to improve oral health. Coconut oil is commonly used for oil pulling as it has antimicrobial properties that may help kill bacteria in the mouth.

8. Is it safe for pets?

Coconut oil is generally safe for pets. Mainly MCT oil extracted from coconut oil has been associated with various health benefits, such as treatment of epilepsy/ dementia, improved skin and coat health and digestion. However, if unsure, it is best to consult a veterinarian before giving it to your pets.

9. Can it be used as a natural sunscreen?

Coconut oil has an SPF of 8, which can absorb up to 20% UV rays. It can provide some protection against the sun’s harmful rays but is not a substitute for sunscreen. Its effectiveness may vary depending on skin type and the sun’s intensity.

10. Is it suitable for people with dry scalp or dandruff?

Coconut oil has been shown to have moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate dry scalp and dandruff. However, more research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness for these conditions.

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