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Coconut Oil 101: What Are the Benefits, and How Should You Use It?

Medically reviewed by 
Coconut Oil 101: What Are the Benefits, and How Should You Use It?

Whether used for weight loss, disease risk reduction, skin and hair care, or life hacks, the coconut oil benefits are endless. So, it’s no surprise that this oil has soared in popularity in the health and wellness industry. Explore the benefits and practical uses of coconut oil to find creative ways to add it to your daily routine.


What is Coconut Oil? 

Coconut oil is a plant-based oil (dietary fat) extracted from coconut fruit with a distinct tropical flavor. The composition of coconut oil is such that it becomes firm in cold temperatures. It’s a versatile oil that can contribute to many of your lifestyle and health goals.

Types of Coconut Oil

There are several methods used to extract coconut oil, including hot extraction, cold extraction, low-pressure extraction, and numerous others. The type of extraction method used determines the makeup and quality of coconut oil. 

Extracting virgin and extra virgin (unrefined) coconut oil uses a small amount of heat or colder temperature to press the coconut, yielding oil and milk. Enzymes, fermentation, or centrifuge machines separate coconut milk from its oil. Virgin oils have a stronger coconut flavor than refined oils. 

Refining coconut oil uses a machine press, steam or heat, filtering through clays, and sometimes chemicals to extract the oil. Refined oils undergo more processing than virgin oils and produce a milder-flavored (fairly odorless and flavorless) product

Partially hydrogenated coconut oils undergo hydrogenation during processing to extend the shelf life and maintain a solid consistency in warm temperatures. Hydrogenation is a source of unhealthy trans fats.

Nutritional Profile of Coconut Oil

The nutritional profile of coconut oil is 120 calories and 14 grams of fat in each 1-tablespoon serving. 

Because it’s a plant-based food, coconut oil is free from cholesterol. It doesn’t contain any fiber, carbohydrates, sugars, or protein. This oil also does, however, provide trace (very small) amounts of minerals, vitamins, and plant sterols — which may help reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Coconut oil consists of about 90% saturated fat and approximately 10% unsaturated fat. However, the saturated fats in coconut oil aren’t the same as saturated fats found in meats and other animal-based foods. 

More than 50% of fats found in coconut oil are medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs), including lauric acid, which the body uses to create energy. MCTs are present in nutritional drinks for athletes, infant formulas, dietary supplements, and lipid intravenous (IV) infusions. 

Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

The potential coconut oil benefits are endless, as researchers continue to discover the advantages of adding this plant-based oil to a well-balanced meal plan.

Coconut Oil and Weight Management

Coconut oil provides various perks related to its effect on weight management, metabolism, and appetite. One review shows that coconut oil is effective in decreasing body weight, body mass index (BMI), and fat mass.

Another study found similar results: ingesting 20 mL (1-2 tablespoons) of coconut oil daily significantly decreased body weight, BMI, body fat percentage, and insulin levels.

Coconut Oil and Cholesterol

Coconut oil may also affect cholesterol levels, which in turn could lessen heart disease risk factors. Researchers found that consuming 1 tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil daily helps increase HDL (healthy) cholesterol and improves good vs. bad cholesterol ratios in the body.

Researchers also found that ingesting 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil each day appears to decrease LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. 

Coconut Oil for Skin and Hair Care

External use offers coconut oil benefits for your skin and hair. Researchers found that applying coconut oil to hair reduces bacteria and fungus, detangles it, moisturizes hair, prevents protein loss, and improves the overall health and appearance of treated locks.

When used topically, coconut oil hydrates the skin, improves skin barrier functioning, stimulates collagen production, decreases inflammation, and protects the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It also reduces microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, on the skin’s surface.

Coconut Oil and Cognitive Function

Coconut oil is naturally rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are saturated fats that may provide brain health benefits. Researchers conducted a review and found that MCTs are beneficial for cognitive (brain) functioning in people with mild cognitive impairment. 

Coconut Oil in Cooking and Baking

Using coconut oil for cooking and baking is an exceptional way to take advantage of the many coconut oil benefits. 

The smoke point of virgin and extra virgin coconut oil is 350 degrees Fahrenheit, making this oil ideal for baking or quick sautéing. However, it’s not appropriate for deep frying or other high-heat cooking methods. 

The smoke point of refined coconut oil is higher (400-450 degrees Fahrenheit), which means it’s suitable for higher-temperature cooking. However, refined oils undergo additional processing, which can remove nutrients and increase undesirable contaminants

You can substitute virgin or extra virgin coconut oil for other oils or butter when baking. If using coconut oil in place of vegetable shortening or butter, use 25% less than the amount listed in your recipe. For stir frying, deep drying, or longer sauteing, choose refined coconut oil or olive oil

You can also add coconut oil to protein shakes, smoothies, yogurts, or no-bake coconut protein balls. Add a small amount (about 1 tablespoon) to curries or sauces to increase the intensity of flavor, or make salad dressing with coconut oil as an ingredient. Smear bread or toast with coconut oil or add this tropical oil to your coffee. 

Potential Risks and Considerations

While the benefits of coconut oil are well-documented, there are potential health concerns linked to a high saturated fat intake, including an increased risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. 

However, saturated fat from plant sources may not be as harmful as once thought. Researchers report that a moderate intake of saturated fat doesn’t pose harm when consumed as part of a nutritious diet

One review found that while coconut oil increases good HDL cholesterol, it might also increase bad LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol — and that additional research is warranted regarding coconut oil’s effects on heart health. Therefore, it’s best to consume this coconut oil in moderation as part of a well-balanced meal plan with regular exercise. 

How to Choose and Store Coconut Oil

Choosing high-quality coconut oil is vital to maximize health outcomes for you and your family. While refined coconut oil offers a higher smoke point and more versatility for use during high-temperature cooking, studies show that refining coconut oil reduces its unsaturated fat content and some micronutrients, while increasing contaminants. 

Unrefined (virgin) oils are typically the healthier option because they’ve retained the most nutrients, undergone the least amount of processing, and aren’t exposed to chemicals. Virgin coconut oils also retain more of their original tropical flavor. However, virgin and extra virgin oils may be more expensive than refined oils. 

Storing coconut oil properly helps maintain its nutritional quality and freshness. Store coconut oil in a dark, cool location in a sealed container or place it in your refrigerator. 

The shelf life of coconut oil varies based on its type. Virgin coconut oil may last 2-3 years when stored away from light and heat, while refined coconut oil typically has a shorter shelf life. Signs your coconut oil has gone bad include an unusual odor or flavor, a yellow tint, or visible mold.

Innovative Ways to Use Coconut Oil Beyond Cooking

Coconut oil is extremely versatile. Not only can you consume it, but you may use coconut oil for your skin, and hair, or unique household hacks!

Examples of outside-the-box coconut oil benefits include:

  • Apply coconut oil to your skin to improve hydration, reduce bacteria, and protect it from UV rays
  • Put coconut oil on your hair to hydrate it, protect it, and prevent or reduce dandruff 
  • Take MCT oil supplements after talking with your doctor
  • Swish coconut oil around in your mouth to reduce bacteria and optimize dental health
  • Remove stains from furniture or carpet using coconut oil
  • Polish wood furniture with coconut oil
  • Soothe chapped lips using coconut oil
  • Use coconut oil to remove makeup
  • Consider coconut oil as a natural insect repellent for ticks, bed bugs, flies, and mosquitos 
  • Use coconut oil to eliminate head lice 
  • Add coconut oil with Epsom salt to your bathwater
  • Swallow a small amount of coconut oil to ease a sore throat or reduce coughing 
  • Use coconut oil as a natural deodorant 
  • Apply coconut oil to wounds to speed up healing 
  • Use coconut oil as a massage oil 
  • Shine your shoes with coconut oil

The possibilities are endless; get creative to take full advantage of this versatile oil!


Key Takeaways

Coconut oil benefits are limitless. While research is ongoing, coconut oil may help you lose weight, burn fat, increase good cholesterol, optimize brain and dental health, and enhance the appearance of your skin and hair. 

Consume coconut oil in moderation as part of a balanced meal plan, cook or bake with it, try MCT supplements, or experiment using coconut oil for unconventional hacks. It offers endless, life-altering possibilities!

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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