Is coconut oil truly good for you?

I recently had a booth at a local health fair. The theme of our booth revolved around dispelling myths and misunderstandings of various types of fat…coconut oil included. So many of the participants came up to our booth and said “I heard that coconut oil was really healthy” and proceeded to tell me in what ways they are consuming it in their diet and using it in their day to day (I must be the only human not using coconut oil on my skin). To be honest, there is ongoing discussion and some disagreement between health professionals about whether or not coconut oil is healthy to consume and an effective way to improve the health of skin and nails.

Coconut oil has been said to be very good for our overall health. Some researchers feel that it may be good for weight loss because it has fewer calories per gram (8.3 kcal/gram) than other types of oil (9 kcal/gram). And because of the way it is metabolized in our bodies, it is thought to burn more calories in the digestion process, also leading to weight loss. However, no solid evidence supporting the use of coconut oil for weight loss exists at this time. The same goes for coconut oil’s effect on lowering heart disease. Some researchers feel that since coconut oil is made up of saturated fat (which can clog arteries), then it will only increase risk of heart attacks. However, other researchers point out that the type of saturated fat in coconut oil is different than that in red meat and butter, which isn’t as bad for your heart. While coconut oil has been shown to help increase “good” cholesterol, other evidence has found that it raises both good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. So, the jury is out. “There are a lot of studies out there, but simply no robust proof that coconut oil is good for your heart health,” Kris-Etherton PhD, RD, FAHA, FNLA, CLS, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, says.

Be sure to keep in mind, the possible health benefits of coconut are only possible if one’s diet is “healthy” overall. Take the people in the Marshall Islands. Traditional inhabitants of the islands consumed the majority of their calories from coconut products (and consumed little processed foods). During this time, diabetes wasn’t a common diagnosis amongst the island population. Unfortunately, the Western style diet slowly infiltrated a once healthy island. And, though islanders continued to consume coconut products, they also began consuming a lot more processed foods and red meat. This caused the rates of diabetes to skyrocket in that area.

While there is great debate over the overall health impact of coconut oil, there is little debate over how great it may be for our skin and nails. “Coconut oil is primarily composed of saturated fats and contains medium-chain fatty acids, which not only help to repair the skin barrier and trap water, thus hydrating the skin, they also reduce inflammation,” says Whitney P. Bowe, MD, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology PC in Westchester and NYC. It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and can be an excellent way to moisturize your skin. It is also good for your hair!! Coconut oil can help reduce protein loss and promote growth when used on the hair and scalp before shampooing.

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