Coconut oil: You can’t browse social media — or the grocery store shelves — these days without running across it. The sweet-smelling tropical staple is rumored to slow aging, help your heart and thyroid, protect against illnesses like Alzheimer’s, arthritis and diabetes, and even help you lose weight.
People are using it in everything from smoothies to bulletproof coffee, a mug of java spiked with coconut oil and butter. Should you sign up for an oil change?
Good News, Bad News
Coconut oil is made by pressing the fat from the white “meat” inside the giant nut. About 84% of its calories come from saturated fat. To compare, 14% of olive oil’s calories are from saturated fat and 63% of butter’s are.
“This explains why, like butter and lard, coconut oil is solid at room temperature with a long shelf life and the ability to withstand high cooking temperatures,” says registered dietitian Lisa Young, PhD. And it’s the reason coconut oil has a bad rap from many health officials.
But there may be a saving grace. Coconut oil’s saturated fat is made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Some people say your body handles them differently than the longer-chain fats in liquid vegetable oils, dairy, and fatty meats.
Coconut oil is the pressed oil produced from the fruit of the coconut palm tree. Coconut oil is relatively unique as an ingredient because it has both hydrating and antibacterial properties. When virgin coconut oil is heated just above room temperature it softens, and you can apply it topically throughout your hair and scalp with a comb or with your fingers.
Coconut oil can work as well, or better, than many commercial hair products at adding shine, smoothness, and strength to your hair. The following benefits of coconut oil may make you consider replacing your traditional hair products with this natural alternative.
Coconut oil is becoming more and more popular as a cosmetic. It can be used as a skin cleanser and moisturizer, a makeup remover, and a facial softener. Coconut oil is even catching on as a substitute for butter and lard in cooking because it’s a source of healthy saturated fat. It’s also been suggested as a weight loss tool, a weight gain suppressant during pregnancy, and as a health supplement to take during chemotherapy.
RISKS AND WARNINGS
As with all plant derivatives, some people are allergic to coconut oil. You should test coconut oil somewhere on your skin (a “patch test”) before you apply it to your hair or scalp. Coconut oil is not a substitute for prescription treatments for eczema, psoriasis, or other skin conditions. If you’re using coconut oil in your hair, make sure to wash your hair thoroughly and frequently. People that tend to experience cysts or clogged pores on their scalp may want to be cautious using coconut oil. It does leave a residue after it’s applied.
If you are using coconut oil as a health supplement in your diet, be aware that it is a source of saturated fat. That means too much coconut oil can lead to higher bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and obesity, just like with any source of fat. But it is interesting that coconut oil has an added benefit of raising good (HDL) cholesterol. Coconut oil is generally safe for topical use.