Coconut oil has gone through its fair share of ups and downs. From being condemned as a heart disease-causing saturated fat, to flying off store shelves as a superfood— should you still have this fat in your diet?
As you can guess from this article title, we agree with the latter: Coconut oil is a superfood. But before we dive into the incredible benefits and uses of coconut oil— and why it’s still a true health food— let’s first quickly clear up the confusion about coconut oil, and why it’s still worth having as a kitchen staple.
Coconut Oil: Wrongly Accused for Causing Heart Disease (And Why it’s Still Good to Eat)
While coconut oil is a saturated fat— and saturated fats can raise cholesterol— there’s no solid evidence that saturated fats are responsible for clogging arteries and causing heart disease (1). In fact, recent research states that the role of saturated fats in coronary heart disease has been “strongly exaggerated”.
You see, heart disease is the result of chronic systemic inflammation. Not only is coconut oil proven to be a highly anti-inflammatory food, but studies also show that refined sugar and carbohydrates raise LDL cholesterol levels and cause more inflammation than saturated fats (2)(3).
In one study done on postmenopausal women with heart disease, results showed that a greater intake of saturated fat was associated with less progression of atherosclerosis— whereas refined carbs and polyunsaturated fats were associated with a greater progression (4).
Evidence also suggests coconut oil can help reduce elevated LDL cholesterol (which is often referred to as the “bad” form of cholesterol), and give HDL cholesterol levels a boost (5). HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol that helps remove cholesterol deposits from blood vessel walls.
As you can see, while eating coconut oil and other saturated fats can increase your total cholesterol levels, this isn’t an immediate cause for alarm bells. What’s more important to look at is the ratio of your total cholesterol to LDL cholesterol. With coconut oil being a potent anti-inflammatory, if you have high LDL cholesterol, refined sugar and carbohydrates are more likely to be the culprits than this saturated tropical fat (6).
It’s also worth noting the countries that consume the most coconut oil have the lowest rates of heart disease (7). Just some food for thought.
Now that we’ve touched on the safety of consuming coconut oil, let’s take a look at the many ways you can use this healthy fat in your recipes.
5 Delicious Ways to Add Coconut Oil to Your Diet
1. For Cooking on Medium High Temperatures
As a saturated fat, coconut oil has a higher smoke point than fats such as olive oil and safflower oil. This means that coconut oil can withstand higher cooking temperatures without creating toxic free radicals, which damage your cells and contribute to premature aging.
Perfect for when you want to whip up a stir-fry, coconut oil’s smoke point is 350 F, making it safe for cooking on medium to medium high temperatures. In comparison, sunflower oil has a smoke point of 225 F, and olive oil has a smoke point of 320 F (8).
While it’s true that there are fats with even higher smoke points than coconut oil, a superior benefit to cooking with coconut oil is the health benefits it also provides. Coconut oil is made up of approximately 86% lauric acid, which is a medium chain fatty acid with potent anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antifungal properties. You may recall what Hippocrates once said: “Let food be thy medicine.”
- Caffeine-Free Energy Booster (Add to Herbal Tea)
MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, derived from coconut oil, is all the rage right now for skyrocketing energy levels. You may have even seen MCT oil as an add-on at your local coffee shop. This is because medium chain triglycerides can be used by the brain as a quick source of energy because of the unique way they’re processed by the body.
Long chain fatty acids found in fats such as dairy and red meat take longer to digest than medium chain fatty acids. This is because they require bile to be released from the gallbladder during digestion. However, medium chain fatty acids skip the “bile release” step, and take a shortcut, going straight from the gut to the liver (9).
Since they’re shorter in length and take a different pathway to be digested, MCT’s can enter your cells quickly and be used for energy straight away— making them an ideal energy booster.
Having a tablespoon of coconut oil in your herbal tea or mug of bone broth is a great way to naturally increase and sustain your energy— all without having to endure the caffeine blood sugar spike and crash roller coaster.
3. Metabolism Boosting Smoothie Ingredient
Long-term clinical trials have shown that the MCT’s found in coconut oil have a beneficial impact on metabolism, and result in less body fat accumulation (10). This is due to the unique pathway medium chain fats take to be digested, as covered above.
Try this delicious Coconut Almond Smoothie:
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 tablespoon almond butter
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Water to reach desired consistency
- Frothy Homemade Latte
If you’re a coffee lover and look forward to the first sip of your morning latte— but you’re also done with the caffeine-induced energy crash at 3pm, or feeling your hands tremble like a chihuahua— there’s a way you can reduce the negative effects of caffeine without giving up your coffee completely.
The fats in coconut oil help stabilize blood sugar levels, which can prevent those dreaded blood sugar spikes and crashes (and may also help reduce anxiety and nervousness). Balanced blood sugar levels can make you feel more “even” throughout the day, and also are linked to a happier mood, less irritability, and fewer sugar cravings (11).
To make a frothy homemade latte, blend your coffee on low with one tablespoon of coconut oil, a splash of unsweetened nut milk, and vanilla extract if you’d like. You may even want to add a tablespoon of collagen powder for extra froth factor, and a protein boost.
5. An Alternative to Butter
Since butter and coconut oil are both saturated fats, butter can be directly swapped for coconut oil in any recipe. Coconut oil is especially helpful for making non-vegan recipes 100% plant based.
Coconut oil is a healthier alternative to vegan margarines, which are often made with heavily processed, pro-inflammatory oils such as canola or soybean oil.
Other Uses for Coconut Oil
As you can see, coconut oil offers a unique combination of health benefits, from being a natural anti-fungal to boosting your metabolism. But coconut oil’s usefulness doesn’t stop in the kitchen.
Consider keeping a jar of coconut oil under your bathroom sink to use as a moisturizer, shaving cream, an anti-inflammatory ointment for cuts, scrapes, and rashes, a base for homemade, fluoride-free toothpaste and natural deodorants made with cornstarch, baking soda, and essential oils.
Coconut oil doesn’t just beautify your body from the inside— it also can lend a hand to vanity. Coconut oil works well as a one-ingredient natural make-up remover (and leaves your skin nice and soft), and an overnight hair mask to smooth and tame frizz, and nourish dry, damaged hair (and no, it doesn’t leave your hair feeling weighed down or greasy).
As an added bonus, coconut oil is healthy for your wallet. You can expect to pay less than $10 for a jar that will last you several weeks, even with liberal use.