Over the past few years, coconut oil has reached mythical status. Claimed benefits have ranged from improvements to heart health to better hair and nails, to living indefinitely! Is coconut oil all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s learn more about it so we can separate fact from fiction.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is the edible oil extracted from the meat of a coconut. Coconut oil is over 90% saturated fat, which historically put it on the “do not eat” list. However, in recent years we have learned that saturated fat is not necessarily associated with an increase in cardiovascular disease. Moreover, the type of saturated fat that is found in coconut oil is special and different than the saturated fats you find in red meat or dairy. These special fats are called Medium-Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs).
What are the Health Benefits of Coconut Oil?
MCFA’s are where most of the health benefits of coconut oil are derived. They are:
Easier to Digest
Due to their smaller size, MCFAs don’t require as much work by the body to digest. They don’t require pancreatic enzymes to be digested and are less of a burden on your digestive tract. This can:
- Improve digestion and reduce bloating
- Increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
Less Likely to be Stored as Body Fat
By the time the MCFA’s reach your intestinal tract they are broken down to into individual particles. This allows it to be sent directly to the liver to be used as energy rather than stored as fat. This process can:
- Boost your metabolism
- Reduce your appetite
Anti-Viral, Antibacterial and Anti-Fugal
Coconut oil contains lauric acid. Lauric acid can help kill viruses, bacteria and fungi. These properties are where most of the topical health benefits come from, such as:
- Improve oral health
- Reduce inflammation and soothe skin conditions such as acne
- Act as a natural deodorant
What’s the Downside to Coconut Oil?
After reading all the benefits, it may seem like coconut oil really is the elixir of the Gods! In some ways, you are correct. I do feel that the list of health benefits is long and, in most cases, true. The downside becomes an issue of portions and expectations.
Typically, we think that if a little of something is good, a lot of it would solve all problems! Unfortunately, this is rarely true. Coconut oil has many health benefits, but it is also high in calories and contains only one of the important macronutrients that you need for your health. What this means is that if you go overboard, you can inadvertently take in a lot more calories than you need and may risk missing out on the other important macro and micro-nutrients found in proteins and carbohydrates. So make sure you are not only focusing on one fantastic ingredient but also looking at your diet and lifestyle as a whole.
Along the same lines, it is important to manage your expectations. Again, coconut oil can be a part of a larger healthy diet and lifestyle but you shouldn’t expect it to be a silver bullet. For instance, taking a tablespoon of coconut oil per day with the hopes of never getting sick again may leave you feeling disappointed and the sniffles. Whereas incorporating coconut oil into your vitamin packed smoothie while getting enough sleep and washing your hands is a more holistic approach.
I’d love to hear how you incorporate coconut oil into your day! Leave your ideas in the comments below or hit me up over on the Total Gym Facebook page!