The A-to-Z Guide to Coconut Oil’s Uses in Holistic Health | Natural Healers

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Coconuts have made it to the mainland–and the mainstream. Used for centuries in folk medicine, coconut oil is enjoying a resurgence in popularity here in America. This guide explains what it’s used for, examines medical claims and digs into the production of this tropical oil.

Cruise down the olive oil aisle at your local market and you may notice a new addition to the shelves: Coconut oil. Found in jars in solidified form, coconut oil was once a pariah in the Western diet because of its high levels of saturated fat. However, in recent years, the tropical nut oil has gained recognition for topical and internal use. It’s quickly become a favorite in the health food world.

Those who swear by coconut oil say it does more than just moisturize skin. It may help with weight loss and ward off heart disease. Proponents look at the long-time use of coconut oil in island nations, like Sri Lanka and the Philippines, as proof that it offers plenty of health benefits. And while those in the medical field acknowledge coconut oil’s chemical makeup is different than that of other saturated fats, they still urge people to monitor their fat and calorie intake.

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So, is coconut oil just a craze or here to stay? Keep reading; this all-encompassing guide will examine the controversy over coconut oil, break down the research and give you plenty of new ideas for how to use the oil.

Coconut Oil Overview

coconut oil overview
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Coconut Oil: Why It’s Different

Coconut oil has a complicated nutritional backstory. Even the most diehard fans can’t deny the high saturated fat content (83%), but it’s the chemical makeup we should pay attention to.

The saturated fat in coconut oil is made of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which metabolize differently in the body than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). The latter are found in saturated fats of other oils and animal products.

To sum up the science lesson: MCTs go directly to the liver and burn as fuel instead of being stored in the body as fat. They may also raise the metabolic rate slightly.

The other differentiator? The high percentage of saturated fat is what keeps coconut oil from liquefying at room temperature and gives it a longer shelf life.

How does coconut oil stack up to your other favorite oils? Take a look:


Source: USDA Nutrient Database

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What’s in Coconut Oil?

While the white flesh of a coconut contains minerals like potassium, iron and magnesium, the oil contains negligible amounts of vitamins E and K and the minerals iron and zinc. However, the paucity of nutrients doesn’t cancel coconut oil’s unique health benefits.

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While the white flesh of a coconut contains minerals like potassium, iron and magnesium, the oil contains negligible amounts of vitamins E and K and the minerals iron and zinc. However, the paucity of nutrients doesn’t cancel coconut oil’s unique health benefits.

Remember those MCTs we mentioned above? They’re made up of fatty acids called medium-chain fatty acids, or MCFAs, which have antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral qualities.

Coconut oil is made up of the following MCFAs:


Here’s where it gets interesting.

Coconut oil, in and of itself, doesn’t appear to have antimicrobial, antibacterial or antiviral qualities. Instead, the health benefits come into play when the fatty acids are converted in the body.


According to Bruce Fife, C.N., N.D., author of The Coconut Oil Miracle, coconut oil trumps others common cooking oils because of their powerhouse fatty acids.

With so much discussion surrounding coconut oil’s fatty acids, scientists have delved into whether lauric and capric acids really can combat illness.

  • One study found that lauric and capric acids exhibited antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties against a bacteria related to acne inflammation.
  • Another study examined coconut oil pulling and its effect on plaque-induced gingivitis. The theory? Lauric acid has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. Study participants showed a decrease in plaque after day seven.
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The Coconut Oil Controversy

Coconut oil wasn’t always cool.

Fife points the finger at the American Soybean Association for much of coconut oil’s downfall several decades ago. Fife says the “Tropical Oils War” began in the 1980s when news headlines, fueled by the soybean industry, proclaimed that coconut and palm oils (both saturated fats) were unhealthy. The result? Everyone from food manufacturers to your local restaurant switched to hydrogenated soybean oil for their cooking.

Then came more bad news for the coconut oil industry. In 1994, the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a warning that movie theater popcorn was loaded with “highly saturated coconut oil.”

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The attack on coconut oil stemmed from an overall misunderstanding about saturated fats, Fife…

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