5 “Facts” About Coconut Oil Approved Or Debunked Through Science
Coconut is a valuable and popular ingredient that has been used for centuries, especially in tropical countries. Coconut flesh can be eaten as is, or seeped in hot water and extracted as “coconut milk”. It can also be roasted, pounded, dried, you name it.
While coconut is a wonderful ingredient and it does have its health benefits, there are quite a few “facts” circling the internet as of late that are just untrue. Food bloggers, health food enthusiasts, paleo nutritionists, and celebrities have begun calling it a “superfood”, without any actual evidence.
On the other hand, there are a few that might actually be true. But how do you figure out which ones are accurate and which ones are not?
Luckily, that’s what science is for! Here are 5 “facts” about coconut oil debunked or approved through science.
1. Claim: Helps In Weight Loss
Despite the fact that no study has ever proven that coconut oil can help in weight loss, many blogs and sites continue to perpetuate the notion that coconut oil is some sort of miracle ingredient. Well, they’re wrong.
Some of them are flat out lying while others are just misguided. In fact, many mistake coconut oil with a semi-synthetic laboratory product known as MCT oil. This product was developed to be given to people who were malnourished or had trouble eating (tube feeding, etc.) because they lack normal enzymes that split fat.
MCT oil acts different to normal oils because it can be mixed with water. It’s also different in that it gets absorbed directly into the liver, and therefore gets used up faster. Regular oils, including coconut oil, get absorbed into the bloodstream.
But even MCT isn’t some magical weight loss aid; the research indicates that that the dose it would require for weight loss comes with a bunch of side effects like nausea, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. To be honest, it wouldn’t be worth it!
Coming back to coconut oil, those blogs that push the miracles of coconut oil are wrong to think that both oils are interchangeable; one’s effects are not the same as the other. The main fats that make up MCT – caprylic and capric acids – are only present in small quantities in coconut oil; it’s most dominant substance is lauric acid, which is why it behaves different in the body.
Claims are also made about how coconuts will make you feel less hungry, but that’s false as well. It is a good source of dietary fiber, and you can eat it as a healthy snack, but a study that included a variety of fats (including coconut oil) concluded that there was no benefit to the body in terms of fullness or hunger.
2. Claim: Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Many studies have concluded that even though coconut oil may be slightly better in reducing the risk of heart disease, it is actually more harmful than oils like corn, safflower, soybean and sesame. It increases the LDL or “bad” cholesterol in our bodies just like other fats, and a recent review of 21 research papers stated that it does not reduce blood cholesterol or risk of heart disease.
But, still many will point to studies and statistics of those who consume coconut as a main part of their diet, like the Pacific Islanders or the people of Kitava who are lean and healthy. What they fail to realize is that it isn’t the coconut that helped them stay that way, but their entire diet and active lifestyle. Their diets also consisted of things like seafood, fruit, and vegetables as well, while being low in fat, alcohol, sugar, dairy, salt, and processed foods.
See what we mean?
Driving this point home is the fact that these studies were based on the lives of people who lived a while ago. Coconuts have not made any impact on changing diets and lifestyles.
Today, Pacific Island is at the top in world obesity charts, as well as having high rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (3 times more prevalent than in Australia). The Samoan people had a diet that consisted of 900 more calories in 2007 than in the 1960s. And all of this was despite the fact that coconut still played a major role in their diets.
3. Claim: Kills Bacteria & Viruses
Another bold claim made by these blogs is that coconut oil can kill virus, fungi and bacteria in the body. This seems to be based on the fact that it contains lauric acid, which can produce monolaurin. In actuality, studies have only found monolaurin to provide protection against the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (Staph infections), and that too in MICE! Other than that, researcher failed to find any effect with either refined or virgin coconut oil.
There are some infections which monolaurin might help fight, but these are just speculations and not enough to make blanket statements like this as there’s no evidence that the body can produce monolaurin through coconut oil.
There is however, evidence that a manufactured version of monolaurin (glycerol monolaurate), found in coconut oil, is often used to emulsify and provide moisturizing properties in cosmetic products. Therefore, you can credibly say that coconut oil benefits the skin as a moisturizer or makeup remover.
4. Claim: Good For Hair
This is one of those claims that’s actually credible!
Several studies published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science have reported that coconut oil applied or massaged into hair is better at penetrating the hair shaft than other mineral oils. And there are no known side effects to using coconut oil this way, so you can use it for healthy hair without worry.
5. Claim: Whitens Teeth
This claim also comes from the “belief” that coconut oil kills bacteria, and as we already saw, that’s a myth as well.
Many claim that oil pulling – a process of swishing oil in the mouth for about 20-30 minutes before spitting it out – draws out toxins. It is supposed to come from Ayurvedic practices in India, and it is said that the feeling of nausea and headache this process can emit is a form of knowing that its actually working.
We call bull because there is no scientific proof to support these claims. If you want to do it, we see no harm (lest it makes you sick), but its not something that should replace proper, scientifically proven dental care.